Australia fake cancer claim blogger ordered to pay costs

An Australian blogger who lied about having brain cancer and claimed to have cured herself with natural therapies has been ordered to pay Aus$30,000 (US$22,600) in legal costs.Belle Gibson, 25, launched a popular cookbook and smartphone app in 2013 on …

An Australian blogger who lied about having brain cancer and claimed to have cured herself with natural therapies has been ordered to pay Aus$30,000 (US$22,600) in legal costs.

Belle Gibson, 25, launched a popular cookbook and smartphone app in 2013 on the back of assertions she had overcome the disease through alternative remedies such as Ayurvedic medicine and a diet free of gluten and refined sugar.

But in 2015 she admitted to an Australian magazine that she had made up the diagnosis.

The Federal Court, which found her guilty of misleading the public last month, said she had 60 days to pay Aus$30,000 in legal costs incurred by Consumer Affairs Victoria, which brought the case, or face possible jail time.

She could also face penalties of up to Aus$220,000 in fines and her company up to Aus$1.1 million, with the court setting a later date to hand down its decision.

Gibson was also barred from "representing that she had been diagnosed with brain cancer" before the case started in May last year, Justice Debra Mortimer wrote in her judgement.

The judgement added that Gibson's company made some Aus$420,000 from the cookbook and app, and that a pledge to donate most of the earnings to charities or good causes was not met.

Mortimer said last month "Gibson deliberately played on the genuine desire of members of the Australian community to help those less fortunate".

"The Whole Pantry" cookbook had 80 mostly plant-based recipes that drew inspiration from Gibson's purported battle against cancer.

Gibson's lie began unravelling when it emerged in early 2015 that she had failed to donate profits from the sales of her cookbook to charity as promised and friends started to question her diagnosis via the media.

A symptom-free virus may spark allergy to gluten: study

A common virus in infancy could trigger a life-long allergy to gluten and lead to celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder which affects one in 133 people in the United States, researchers said Thursday.Celiac disease is caused when the body has an impro…

A common virus in infancy could trigger a life-long allergy to gluten and lead to celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder which affects one in 133 people in the United States, researchers said Thursday.

Celiac disease is caused when the body has an improper immune response -- much like an allergy -- to the protein gluten, found in wheat, rye, and barley.

The disease damages the lining of the small intestine, and has no cure. It can only be treated by adopting a gluten-free diet.

But if Thursday's study in the journal Science -- based on experiments using mice -- is confirmed in larger studies in people, researchers said a vaccine might be able to prevent celiac disease in the future.

"This study clearly shows that a virus that is not clinically symptomatic can still do bad things to the immune system and set the stage for an autoimmune disorder, and for celiac disease in particular," said senior author Bana Jabri, director of research at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.

The study found that intestinal bugs called reoviruses can make the immune system overreact to gluten, a protein that is already difficult to digest.

Given to mice, "one common human reovirus triggered an inflammatory immune response and the loss of oral tolerance to gluten, while another closely related but genetically different strain did not," said the study.

The virus led to a surge in antibodies that may leave a "permanent mark on the immune system that sets the stage for a later autoimmune response to gluten."

Most infants eat their first gluten-containing cereals around six months of age, a time when their immune systems are more vulnerable to viruses.

"During the first year of life, the immune system is still maturing, so for a child with a particular genetic background, getting a particular virus at that time can leave a kind of scar that then has long-term consequences," Jabri said.

"That's why we believe that once we have more studies, we may want to think about whether children at high risk of developing celiac disease should be vaccinated."

Co-authors of the study were from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; the University of Naples, Italy; Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands; Massachusetts General Hospital; Harvard Medical School; the Broad Institute at MIT; the University of Montreal; and Stanford University.

Cancer study: Antibiotics linked to dangerous polyps

Long-term use of antibiotics increases the risk later in life of developing colon polyps, often a precursor of bowel cancer, researchers said Wednesday.The findings, published in the journal Gut, boost evidence that the digestive tract’s complex networ…

Long-term use of antibiotics increases the risk later in life of developing colon polyps, often a precursor of bowel cancer, researchers said Wednesday.

The findings, published in the journal Gut, boost evidence that the digestive tract's complex network of bacteria may play a key role in cancer emergence.

Earlier research has linked antibiotic use to developing bowel cancer but the potential association with these abnormal growths had not been explored.

To find out more, Andrew Chan of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston combed through health records for 16,642 women who were 60 or older in 2004.

The women were enrolled in the Nurses Health Study, which has been following the health of 121,700 nurses in the United States since 1976. The nurses' medications are included in the monitoring.

The women examined in the new study had had at least one colonoscopy between 2004 and 2010. During that period, 1,195 cases of polyps were diagnosed.

The researchers found an increased risk of polyps among women who had taken antibiotics for a total of two months or more over a two-decade span.

Women who did so in their 20s and 30s had a 36-percent greater chance of polyps forming compared to counterparts who did not extensively use antibiotics.

The risk jumped by 70 percent in women who took antibiotics for at least two months while they were in their 40s and 50s.

"Long-term antibiotic use in early-to-middle adulthood was associated with increased risk of colorectal adenoma," the study said, using the technical term for polyps.

The study was not based on a controlled experiment, so the evidence that antibiotics somehow lead to the appearance of polyps remains circumstantial, the researchers noted.

But there is a plausible explanation for how this might happen, they added.

- 'Increasing evidence' -

Antibiotics fundamentally alter the population of bacteria in the digestive tract -- the microbiome -- by killing some germs and reducing the population of others.

Even when they work as intended by eliminating a disease-causing bug, antibiotics also reduce the gut's resistance to other "hostile" bacteria.

This disruption of the natural balance of bacteria, earlier work has shown, is common in patients with bowel cancer.

Add to this the fact that many bugs requiring antibiotics cause inflammation -- a known risk factor for bowel cancer -- and the link becomes even stronger, the authors said.

If confirmed by further studies, the findings suggest the need to limit the use of antibiotics "that may drive tumour formation," they concluded.

Sheena Cruickshank, a lecturer in immunology at the University of Manchester in Britain who was not involved in the study, said the new research zeros in on a key question.

"There is increasing evidence that our microbiota are important in regulating our immune responses and many aspects of our normal function," she wrote in a comment distributed by the Science Media Centre.

"Anything that disturbs our gut bacteria -- such as changes in diet, inflammation or antibiotic use -- may have an impact on our health."

But she added that the study did not adequately investigate whether the diet of the women who took a lot of antibiotics contributed to the development of pre-cancerous lesions.

Nor does it consider the possibility that antibiotics in farm animals whose meat is consumed by people could play a role as well.

Obesity in pregnancy is linked to epilepsy risk

Being overweight or obese in the first trimester of pregnancy has been linked to a higher risk of bearing a child with epilepsy, researchers said Monday.The study was based on data from 1.4 million children in Sweden, and was published in the Journal o…

Being overweight or obese in the first trimester of pregnancy has been linked to a higher risk of bearing a child with epilepsy, researchers said Monday.

The study was based on data from 1.4 million children in Sweden, and was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Neurology.

Just how much a child's risk of epilepsy rose was linked to how obese the mother was early in her pregnancy, said the findings led by Neda Razaz of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.

"Risk of epilepsy increased by 11 percent in children of overweight mothers," whose body-mass index was between 25 and 30, said the study, which found that, of the 1.4 million children born between 1997 and 2011 in Sweden, 0.5 percent (7,592 children) were diagnosed with epilepsy through 2012.

BMI is calculated based on a ratio of height and weight. The average range is generally 18.5-24.9.

Women who were obese, having a BMI of 30 to less than 35, saw a 20 percent increased risk of bearing a child with epilepsy compared to normal weight mothers.

For women with a BMI of 35 to less than 40, the risk rose 30 percent.

And for those with extreme obesity, the risk was 82 percent higher than normal weight mothers.

Epilepsy is a brain disorder whose causes remain poorly understood.

The survey-based study did not delve into the causes of the apparently higher risk of epilepsy, which may include genetic and environmental factors.

Researchers speculated that being overweight or obese during pregnancy could lead to a higher risk of brain injury in infants, or that obesity-induced inflammation could affect neurodevelopment.

"Given that overweight and obesity are potentially modifiable risk factors, prevention of obesity in women of reproductive age may be an important public health strategy to reduce the incidence of epilepsy," said the report.

A separate study in Denmark published last year by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that when women had a higher BMI before getting pregnant, their offspring faced a higher risk of cerebral palsy.

Cambodia to allow foreigners to leave with surrogate babies

The Cambodian government is set to allow foreign couples to return home with babies conceived to surrogates before the ‘womb for rent’ business was banned last year, an official said Monday.Curbs on the surrogacy industry in neighbouring Thailand and I…

The Cambodian government is set to allow foreign couples to return home with babies conceived to surrogates before the 'womb for rent' business was banned last year, an official said Monday.

Curbs on the surrogacy industry in neighbouring Thailand and India sparked a boom in the unregulated baby business in impoverished Cambodia, with Australian couples in particular turning to the kingdom.

But late last year Cambodian authorities banned commercial surrogacy and refused to legalise birth certificates for babies.

This prevented foreign parents -- many believed to be Australians -- from taking the children out of the country, although the couples were able to travel in and out of Cambodia.

But an official told AFP the restriction is poised to change after Prime Minister Hun Sen approved an "exit strategy" allowing babies who were born to -- or being carried by -- surrogates before the ban to leave.

"We will allow parents who have surrogate babies born (before the ban) to take them out," according to Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior.

She said foreign couples had to follow the law and show a DNA match in order to claim their babies, while the surrogate's husband had to testify that the baby did not belong to him.

"We also need the parents to say why they have asked others to carry babies for them," Chou Bun Eng added.

"We will facilitate the process and will not create any difficulty for the parents," she said.

But she warned that parents tempted to try to take their children out of Cambodia illegally would face criminal charges.

Surrogacy agencies started springing up in the Southeast Asian nation after India and Thailand blocked foreigners from the services following a flurry of scandals and concerns about exploitation

With cheap medical costs and no laws excluding gay couples or single parents, Cambodia quickly soaked up much of the demand.

In November, Australian nurse Tammy Davis-Charles, 49, was arrested for allegedly running an illegal surrogacy service in Cambodia -- arranging for more than 20 Cambodian women to carry babies for Australian couples.

Spectre of starvation haunting globe: report

Record prices, conflicts and extreme weather combined to drive the number of people vulnerable to starvation up to 108 million last year, according to a UN and EU-backed report published Friday.The global total of people deemed “severely food insecure”…

Record prices, conflicts and extreme weather combined to drive the number of people vulnerable to starvation up to 108 million last year, according to a UN and EU-backed report published Friday.

The global total of people deemed "severely food insecure" represents a 35 percent increase on the 80 million considered to be in that dangerously exposed position in 2015.

The term refers to people already suffering from acute malnutrition or lacking enough food to provide their basic energy requirements on a sustainable basis.

It can include households who can only survive by, for example, slaughtering their animals and thus depleting their future ability to produce food.

The report warns that the food insecurity crisis is set to worsen this year with four parts of the developing world, South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and northeast Nigeria, at risk of famine.

The report was produced under the joint auspices of the European Union, UN agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and USAID/FEWSNET along with some regional food security institutions.

Extreme weather factors blamed for the deteriorating situation included drought and erratic rainfall caused by the El Nino phenomenon.

But civil conflict was the driving factor in nine of the 10 worst humanitarian crises, the 2017 Global Report on Food Crises says.

Other countries facing widespread food insecurity this year are Iraq, Syria (including refugees in neighbouring countries) Malawi and Zimbabwe.

"In the absence of immediate and substantive action not only to save people's lives, but also to pull them back from the brink of famine, the food security situation in these countries will continue to worsen in coming months," the report says.

FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said: "We can prevent people dying from famine but if we do not scale up our efforts to save, protect and invest in rural livelihoods, tens of millions will remain severely food insecure."

Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, said food insecurity was not just a humanitarian issue.

"Hunger exacerbates crisis, creating ever greater instability and insecurity," he said. "What is a food security challenge today becomes tomorrow's security challenge.

"It is a race against time -- the world must act now to save the lives and livelihoods of the millions at the brink of starvation."

Global depression numbers surge in past decade: WHO

Cases of depression have ballooned almost 20 percent in a decade, making the debilitating disorder linked to suicide the leading cause of disability worldwide, the World Health Organization said Thursday.By 2015, the number of people globally living wi…

Cases of depression have ballooned almost 20 percent in a decade, making the debilitating disorder linked to suicide the leading cause of disability worldwide, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

By 2015, the number of people globally living with depression, according to a revised definition, had reached 322 million, up 18.4 percent since 2005, the UN agency said.

"These new figures are a wake-up call for all countries to rethink their approaches to mental health and to treat it with the urgency that it deserves," WHO chief Margaret Chan said in a statement.

According to the agency's definition, depression is more than just a bout of the blues.

It is a "persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that people normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities for two weeks or more."

Lack of energy, shifts in appetite or sleep patterns, substance abuse, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness and thoughts of self-harm or suicide are also common, and can wreak havoc on entire families.

The drop in productivity, and other medical conditions often linked to depression, also takes a financial toll, with the global cost estimated at $1 trillion annually, the WHO said.

Shekhar Saxena, head of the agency's mental health and substance abuse department, said Thursday that both psycho-social and medical treatments could be highly effective, insisting on the importance of reaching more of those in need.

Even in the most developed countries, around half of people suffering from depression are not diagnosed or treated, and the percentage soars to between 80 and 90 percent in less developed nations.

Treatment can be difficult to access, while a fear of stigma also prevents many people from seeking the help required to live healthy and productive lives, the agency said.

According to the WHO, every dollar invested in improving access to treatment leads to a return of $4 in better health and productivity.

And "early identification and treatment of depression is a very effective means of decreasing death by suicide," Saxena told reporters.

About 800,000 people commit suicide worldwide every year, amounting to one suicide every four seconds.

And the link to depression is clear.

Saxena pointed to studies showing that 70 to 80 percent of people who commit suicide in high-income countries, and around half of those who kill themselves in low-income countries, suffer from mental disorders, of which depression is the most common.

Vaccine shortage for Nigeria meningitis outbreak

Nigeria is facing a major shortfall in vaccines to contain an outbreak of meningitis that has claimed 282 lives since November last year, senior health officials said on Thursday.The head of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekwea…

Nigeria is facing a major shortfall in vaccines to contain an outbreak of meningitis that has claimed 282 lives since November last year, senior health officials said on Thursday.

The head of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekweazu, said nearly 2,000 cases had been reported since the first in the northwestern state of Zamfara.

"We currently have 1,966 suspected cases across the country; 109 of those, have been laboratory confirmed. There have been 282 deaths," he told a news conference in Abuja.

Zamfara and the neighbouring states of Sokoto, Katsina, Kebbi and Niger have been hit hardest by the disease. Most of the dead are children aged five to 14.

"We are in the middle of significant response in each of these states to minimise the impact of meningitis among our people," he said.

But Ihekweazu said the type of meningitis C strain responsible for the outbreak was not common in Nigeria and there was a "limited stock" of vaccine worldwide.

The World Health Organization, which manages the stocks, has delivered 500,000 doses for a vaccination programme to start in Zamfara on April 11, he added.

Another NCDC official described the shortage as "major".

"For Zamfara state alone... it is estimated that about three million doses of vaccine will be required," the official added.

A team was working to determine the actual number of doses required to contain the spread of the disease, which has hit 15 of the country's 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

Meningitis is caused by different types of bacteria, six of which can cause epidemics.

It is transmitted between people through coughs and sneezes, and facilitated by cramped living conditions and close contact.

The illness causes acute inflammation of the outer layers of the brain and spinal cord, with the most common symptoms being fever, headache and neck stiffness.

Nigeria lies in the so-called "meningitis belt" of sub-Saharan Africa, stretching from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, where outbreaks of the disease are a regular occurrence.

More than 13,700 people were infected and over 1,100 died in an outbreak in Nigeria and neighbouring Niger in 2015.

Electromagnetic fields linked with nerve disease: study

Pilots, welders and other workers who are persistently exposed to high levels of electromagnetic fields may be at higher risk of developing deadly motor neurone disease, according to a study published Thursday.Research in The BMJ drew a link between su…

Pilots, welders and other workers who are persistently exposed to high levels of electromagnetic fields may be at higher risk of developing deadly motor neurone disease, according to a study published Thursday.

Research in The BMJ drew a link between such exposure and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive degeneration of the motor nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

There is currently no cure, and those affected usually die within a few years of diagnosis.

The disease is very rare, occurring on average among two new cases per 100,000 people every year, most typically among individuals aged between 55 and 65.

"Those whose jobs had exposed them to high levels of extremely low electromagnetic fields were more than twice as likely to develop ALS as those who had never been exposed," according to researchers led by Roel Vermeulen, a professor at the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences at Utrecht University in The Netherlands.

Low-frequency electromagnetic fields are generated by electrical appliances and electrical tools and the power grid.

Earlier studies have suggested ALS may be associated with close workplace exposure to these fields, but the link has proven very difficult to establish.

Other suspected sources of the nerve disease are electric shocks, solvents, metal and pesticides.

Researchers reviewed medical records of about 120,000 men and women who were monitored for 17 years starting from the age of 55 to 69.

Seventy-six men and 60 women who died of ALS during this time were compared to a control group of about 4,000 randomly selected people.

Work histories detailed exposure to the five suspect agents, including the electromagnetic fields.

There was no significant correlation with the other suspected sources, the researchers found.

"This study has much better information on exposure to magnetic fields than previous studies," said Neil Pearce, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"If this finding is real, it is important as it identifies a new, preventable cause of ALS."

But scientists still did not know what the biological mechanism behind such exposure might be, he added.

Other scientists were more reserved.

"One has to take this result with caution, as the patient numbers were very low," said Christian Holscher, a professor at Lancaster University.

"It is not clear what conclusion to draw."

Paul Pharoah, a professor of cancer epidemiology at the University of Cambridge, said that "chance is the most likely explanation for the findings."

Also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, ALS hit headlines in 2014 with the "Ice Bucket Challenge", which saw people upload videos of themselves to the internet pouring cold water over their heads in a bid to raise awareness. British physicist Stephen Hawking suffers from the disease.

Jobs with high exposure levels include electric line installers, cable jointers, welders and aircraft pilots.

Flint water settlement orders lead pipes replaced

A federal judge on Tuesday approved a $97 million settlement in a lawsuit over drinking water contamination in the US city of Flint, Michigan, requiring that all lead pipes be replaced.

The agreement comes almost three years after lead first began to contaminate the drinking water of the hard-scrabble Midwestern city near the US automotive capital of Detroit, due to a switch to a more corrosive water source that had not been properly treated to protect aging underground pipes.

The lead contamination, initially denied by state and local officials, poisoned thousands of children. The tainted water caused the deaths of 12 people from Legionnaire’s disease, officials said.

According to the state’s top law enforcement official who is now investigating the crisis, a $200-a-day water treatment would have prevented the lead leaching.

The settlement requires that all of Flint’s lead and galvanized steel pipes be replaced within three years. The state must also guarantee the availability of water filters through 2018 and provide bottled water at least until September.

US District Court Judge David Lawson will monitor the settlement’s implementation.

“For the first time, there will be an enforceable commitment to get the lead pipes out of the ground. The people of Flint are owed at least this much,” said Dimple Chaudhary, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The NRDC is one of the groups that brought the lawsuit along with Flint area pastors and the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Flint resident Melissa Mays was also a party to the suit.

“This is a win for the people of Flint,” Mays said in a statement. “The greatest lesson I’ve learned from Flint’s water crisis is that change only happens when you get up and make your voice heard.”

Almost half of the money in the settlement will come directly from the state of Michigan, with the rest allocated by the US Congress.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder supported the settlement, saying it was the best path forward for Flint.

“While the settlement provides for commitments to many different resources, the state will continue striving to work on many priorities to ensure the city of Flint has a positive future,” Snyder said in a statement.

Thirteen current and former government officials have been criminally charged in the ongoing investigation of the handling of the water crisis and the decisions that caused it.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has also sued two water engineering companies, the French firm Veolia and the Texas-based Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, claiming they failed to prevent or properly address the crisis.

The two companies have denied wrongdoing.

A federal judge on Tuesday approved a $97 million settlement in a lawsuit over drinking water contamination in the US city of Flint, Michigan, requiring that all lead pipes be replaced.

The agreement comes almost three years after lead first began to contaminate the drinking water of the hard-scrabble Midwestern city near the US automotive capital of Detroit, due to a switch to a more corrosive water source that had not been properly treated to protect aging underground pipes.

The lead contamination, initially denied by state and local officials, poisoned thousands of children. The tainted water caused the deaths of 12 people from Legionnaire's disease, officials said.

According to the state's top law enforcement official who is now investigating the crisis, a $200-a-day water treatment would have prevented the lead leaching.

The settlement requires that all of Flint's lead and galvanized steel pipes be replaced within three years. The state must also guarantee the availability of water filters through 2018 and provide bottled water at least until September.

US District Court Judge David Lawson will monitor the settlement's implementation.

"For the first time, there will be an enforceable commitment to get the lead pipes out of the ground. The people of Flint are owed at least this much," said Dimple Chaudhary, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The NRDC is one of the groups that brought the lawsuit along with Flint area pastors and the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Flint resident Melissa Mays was also a party to the suit.

"This is a win for the people of Flint," Mays said in a statement. "The greatest lesson I've learned from Flint's water crisis is that change only happens when you get up and make your voice heard."

Almost half of the money in the settlement will come directly from the state of Michigan, with the rest allocated by the US Congress.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder supported the settlement, saying it was the best path forward for Flint.

"While the settlement provides for commitments to many different resources, the state will continue striving to work on many priorities to ensure the city of Flint has a positive future," Snyder said in a statement.

Thirteen current and former government officials have been criminally charged in the ongoing investigation of the handling of the water crisis and the decisions that caused it.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has also sued two water engineering companies, the French firm Veolia and the Texas-based Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, claiming they failed to prevent or properly address the crisis.

The two companies have denied wrongdoing.

US praises China over fentanyl fight

A senior US official praised China on Tuesday for its commitment to fighting the spread of synthetic drugs, particularly the powerful opioid fentanyl which is ravaging swathes of the United States.Fentanyl is a potent prescription painkiller which is e…

A senior US official praised China on Tuesday for its commitment to fighting the spread of synthetic drugs, particularly the powerful opioid fentanyl which is ravaging swathes of the United States.

Fentanyl is a potent prescription painkiller which is extremely addictive, leading people to seek out illegal copycat versions. Pop star Prince died from a fentanyl overdose last year.

China remains a significant producer and supplier of illicit fentanyl and the chemicals used to make the compound.

But a senior Washington drugs official on Wednesday said Beijing had been "a tremendously effective partner" in trying to tackle the trade.

In a conference call with reporters Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Luis Arreaga, from the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, singled out moves by Beijing in the last two years to control "more than 120 analogue and other psychoactive substances".

"China has been a tremendously effective partner with the United States and China?s commitment has been shown with some very specific steps to control their domestic production of chemicals that can be used for illicit drugs," he said.

An estimated 2.6 million Americans are hooked on prescription opioid painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone, or on heroin and fentanyl.

"Just to give you an idea of how horrific the problem is in the United States, in 2015 alone prescription and illicit opioids including fentanyl claimed the lives of over 33,000 Americans," Arreaga said.

He added that while current global controls to stop the manufacture and spread of such drugs remained "inadequate", successes were being achieved especially in efforts to control the export of precursor chemicals.

Earlier this month the UN's top drugs body moved to crack down on the two most common chemicals used to create illicit fentanyl.

On Monday China's government said its own drug problem was severe and growing, with particularly sharp rises in the abuse and production of synthetic drugs.

Chinese seizures of methamphetamine, ketamine and other synthetic drugs surged by 106 percent year-on-year in 2016, said Liu Yuejin, vice director of the China National Narcotics Control Commission.

The drugs are readily available for purchase online from manufacturers in China, who constantly tweak their formulas to keep the them one step ahead of laws that ban the products based on their chemical composition.

US researchers develop rapid blood test for TB

US researchers on Monday said they have developed a fast blood test for tuberculosis that could speed diagnosis and treatment of the serious and sometimes fatal bacterial infection.One of the oldest known diseases, tuberculosis, or TB, has killed an es…

US researchers on Monday said they have developed a fast blood test for tuberculosis that could speed diagnosis and treatment of the serious and sometimes fatal bacterial infection.

One of the oldest known diseases, tuberculosis, or TB, has killed an estimated billion people over the past two centuries.

A bacterial infection that attacks the lungs and can cause coughing, fever, night sweats and weight loss, TB is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide today.

Some 10.4 million people were sickened with TB in 2015, and 1.8 million died from the disease, according to the World Health Organization.

However, diagnosing TB remains complicated.

"In the current frontlines of TB testing, coughed-up sputum, blood culture tests, invasive lung and lymph biopsies, or spinal taps are the only way to diagnose TB," said Tony Hu of Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, who led the effort to develop the new test.

"The results can give false negatives, and these tests are further constrained because they can take days to weeks to get the results."

The new test "outperforms all others currently on the market" and can be completed in hours, researchers said in a statement.

It is also the first to measure the severity of active TB infections by looking at two proteins in the blood -- called CFP-10 and ESAT-6 -- that TB bacteria release only during active infections.

Its accuracy was about 92 percent, regardless of whether or not patients were also infected with HIV, which can require more complicated testing for TB.

The test is not yet available to the public and its cost has not yet been determined.

A report describing the test was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal.

Fruit fuelled evolution of a bigger brain: study

Humans likely developed large and powerful brains, researchers said Monday, with the help of what is today the simplest of snacks: fruit.

Eating fruit was a key step up from the most basic of foodstuffs, such as leaves, and provided the energy needed to grow bulkier brains, the scientists argued.

“That’s how we got these crazy huge brains,” said the study’s corresponding author Alex Decasien, a researcher at New York University. “We have blown up the quality of our food that we are eating.”

The study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution looked at the staple foods of over 140 species of primates, and assumed their diets haven’t changed much over the course of recent evolution.

According to the research, the animals which feast on fruit have brains that are about 25 percent bigger than those filling their bellies primarily with leaves.

The results call into question the theory that has prevailed since the mid-1990s, which says bigger brains developed out of the need to survive and reproduce in complex social groups.

Decasien said the challenges of living in a group could be part of getting smarter, but found no link between the complexity of primates’ social lives and the size of their grey matter.

What did correlate strongly with brain size was eating fruit.

Foods such as fruit contain more energy than basic sources like leaves, thus creating the additional fuel needed to evolve a bigger brain.

At the same time, remembering which plants produce fruit, where they are, and how to break them open could also help a primate grow a bigger brain.

A larger brain also needs more fuel to keep it running.

“We’ve heard that fact saying (our brain) is two percent of our body weight, but it takes up 25 percent of our energy,” Decasien said.

“It’s a crazy expensive organ.”

While the study challenges some of the orthodoxy of how our brains evolved, the research is likely to continue.

“I feel confident that their study will refocus and reinvigorate research seeking to explain cognitive complexity in primates and other mammals,” wrote Chris Venditti, a researcher at the University of Reading in Britain in a comment on the study, also published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

“But many questions remain,” he added.

Humans likely developed large and powerful brains, researchers said Monday, with the help of what is today the simplest of snacks: fruit.

Eating fruit was a key step up from the most basic of foodstuffs, such as leaves, and provided the energy needed to grow bulkier brains, the scientists argued.

"That's how we got these crazy huge brains," said the study's corresponding author Alex Decasien, a researcher at New York University. "We have blown up the quality of our food that we are eating."

The study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution looked at the staple foods of over 140 species of primates, and assumed their diets haven't changed much over the course of recent evolution.

According to the research, the animals which feast on fruit have brains that are about 25 percent bigger than those filling their bellies primarily with leaves.

The results call into question the theory that has prevailed since the mid-1990s, which says bigger brains developed out of the need to survive and reproduce in complex social groups.

Decasien said the challenges of living in a group could be part of getting smarter, but found no link between the complexity of primates' social lives and the size of their grey matter.

What did correlate strongly with brain size was eating fruit.

Foods such as fruit contain more energy than basic sources like leaves, thus creating the additional fuel needed to evolve a bigger brain.

At the same time, remembering which plants produce fruit, where they are, and how to break them open could also help a primate grow a bigger brain.

A larger brain also needs more fuel to keep it running.

"We've heard that fact saying (our brain) is two percent of our body weight, but it takes up 25 percent of our energy," Decasien said.

"It's a crazy expensive organ."

While the study challenges some of the orthodoxy of how our brains evolved, the research is likely to continue.

"I feel confident that their study will refocus and reinvigorate research seeking to explain cognitive complexity in primates and other mammals," wrote Chris Venditti, a researcher at the University of Reading in Britain in a comment on the study, also published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

"But many questions remain," he added.

Hepatitis C drug faces fresh battle

Medical NGOs mounted a new legal bid Monday to break a US pharma giant’s hold on a hepatitis C drug whose price — costing thousands of dollars for a typical course — has unleashed a fierce patent battle.The drug, known by its lab name as sofosbuvir, …

Medical NGOs mounted a new legal bid Monday to break a US pharma giant's hold on a hepatitis C drug whose price -- costing thousands of dollars for a typical course -- has unleashed a fierce patent battle.

The drug, known by its lab name as sofosbuvir, cures 90 percent of Hep C cases, bringing hopes for millions infected with the dangerous liver virus.

But critics say the manufacturer, Gilead Sciences, has priced it out of the reach of many patients and public health systems.

A single pill of the the drug, marketed as Sovaldi and other names, can cost up to $1,000 (920 euros). In France, a 12-week course of treatment costs 41,000 euros.

Seeking to clear the way for a low-cost generic version of the drug, the groups on Monday filed a fresh legal challenge with the European Patent Office in Munich.

The complaint has been backed by 30 groups from 17 European nations including Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Doctors of the World (MDM).

"Gilead's patent monopolies on sofosbuvir are blocking access to affordable hepatitis C treatment," said Alienor Devaliere, EU Policy Advisor for MSF's Access Campaign.

"The science behind sofosbuvir isn't new."

The new suit takes aim at the base compound used to make the drug.

In a previous challenge last October, MDM notched up a partial victory when the European Patent Office upheld Gilead's patent but "in an amended form". The ruling protected sofosbuvir's component parts, but not the base compound itself.

In its previous legal filing, MDM had argued Gilead did not deserve the patent as the science behind the drug was not sufficiently innovative, and relied on advances made by other private and public researchers.

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by a blood-borne virus, transmitted for instance through infected needles.

According to the UN's World Health Organization (WHO), between 130 and 150 million people are chronically infected with the virus -- a condition that leads to cirrhosis of the liver in 15-30 percent of cases within 20 years.

The annual death toll from Hepatitis C-related liver diseases is around 700,000 according to the WHO website.

Gilead did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the new lawsuit.

Egypt resumes Brazil meat imports

Egypt said on Saturday it would resume importing meat from Brazil after a brief suspension following allegations that exporters in the Latin American country had sold tainted beef and poultry.”We suspended it (this week) until we found out what happene…

Egypt said on Saturday it would resume importing meat from Brazil after a brief suspension following allegations that exporters in the Latin American country had sold tainted beef and poultry.

"We suspended it (this week) until we found out what happened and now it's back, but we won't import anything from slaughter houses or factories that have a problem," said Mona Mehrez, a deputy to the agriculture minister.

Brazilian meat exports were worth $63 million a day until last week's announcement by police of "Operation Weak Flesh," which revealed that some meatpackers had paid crooked inspectors to pass off rotten and adulterated meat as safe.

Brazil's government had appealed Wednesday to the World Trade Organization's (WTO) 163 other members not to impose "arbitrary" bans on the country's more than $13 billion meat export industry.

Trump ‘unbelievably healthy,’ Treasury secretary says

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday lauded President Donald Trump, saying the 70-year-old in the White House had the hardy good health to excel in his new job.”He’s got perfect genes. He has incredible energy and he’s unbelievably healthy,” Mnu…

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday lauded President Donald Trump, saying the 70-year-old in the White House had the hardy good health to excel in his new job.

"He's got perfect genes. He has incredible energy and he's unbelievably healthy," Mnuchin said, during an event organized by the news website Axios.

"This guy has got more stamina than anybody I've ever met. I travel with him all the time. It's unbelievable."

Trump has boasted of his own robust health and Friday's remarks echoed statements made in 2015 by his personal physician Harold Bornstein, who proclaimed in a letter that Trump would be "the healthiest individual ever" to win the presidency.

Bornstein subsequently revealed that he had written the letter in five minutes and told The New York Times that Trump took statins to treat elevated cholesterol, as well as antibiotics to treat rosacea, a common skin condition, and a hair-growth drug.

Mnuchin said Trump's no longer dines on McDonald's or fried chicken from fast-food chain KFC because cuisine at the White House is "great."

The official praised Trump for his open-door policy at the Oval Office, making him easily accessible.

"People are coming and going and he thinks about something and calls somebody on the phone," he said. "This is not a formal, scheduled president."

Trump also understands the gravity of his new role, he said. "He has excellent judgment. I think he understands the seriousness of this job, and the responsibility."

Mnuchin also jokingly said Trump's likeness should appear on a new domination of US currency.

"I think we should look at putting President Trump on the thousand dollar bill."

116 million African children to get polio vaccines: WHO

The World Health Organization said Friday 116 million children are to receive polio vaccines in 13 countries in west and central Africa as part of efforts to eradicate the disease on the continent.”The synchronised vaccination campaign, one of the larg…

The World Health Organization said Friday 116 million children are to receive polio vaccines in 13 countries in west and central Africa as part of efforts to eradicate the disease on the continent.

"The synchronised vaccination campaign, one of the largest of its kind ever implemented in Africa, is part of urgent measures to permanently stop polio on the continent," the WHO said.

The programme will see all children under the age of five in 13 countries immunised from Saturday "in a coordinated effort to raise childhood immunity to polio," it added.

The countries are Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

Once a worldwide scourge, polio is still endemic in three countries -- Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This year, the WHO has recorded four cases of polio -- two each in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Last year, there were 37 cases globally.

The four-day campaign in Africa by 190,000 vaccinators is part of the response to the discovery of three cases of polio in the insurgency-wracked state of Borno in northeast Nigeria last year.

Before then, the west African country had not reported a case of polio in two years and was on track to be certified free of the virus this year.

Rod Curtis, from the UN children's fund UNICEF in Borno, told AFP another campaign would take place at the end of April in the countries around Lake Chad.

Lake Chad forms the border between Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, which have all been affected by Boko Haram's Islamist insurgency.

"It's funded by international donors, local governments and the government of Japan who spent $33 million specifically to support this campaign," he said.

Polio is a highly infectious viral disease which mainly affects young children and can result in permanent paralysis. There is no cure and it can only be prevented through immunisation.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said South Africa's former president Nelson Mandela launched a campaign 20 years ago to "Kick Polio Out of Africa".

"At that time, every single country on the continent was endemic to polio, and every year, more than 75,000 children were paralysed for life by this terrible disease," said Moeti.

"Thanks to the dedication of governments, communities, parents and health workers, this disease is now beaten back to this final reservoir."

UNICEF's regional director for west and central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, said she was hopeful polio could be wiped out with the help of African leaders.

"Polio eradication will be an unparalleled victory, which will not only save all future generations of children from the grip of a disease that is entirely preventable, but will show the world what Africa can do when it unites behind a common goal," she said.

In Trump land, painful choices await if Obamacare goes

Maribeth Coote says she hates Obamacare, but it’s the only health coverage option she can afford in this remote, hardscrabble corner of southwestern Pennsylvania. The government should “just back off and let me figure it out, and get out of the whole i…

Maribeth Coote says she hates Obamacare, but it's the only health coverage option she can afford in this remote, hardscrabble corner of southwestern Pennsylvania.

The government should "just back off and let me figure it out, and get out of the whole industry" of health care, the 52-year-old Chicago transplant to the tiny town of Rogersville said as she cleaned up her woodworking shed from recent flooding.

Donna Himelrick is uninsured and priced out of the market, despite being the mayor of Hundred, a small town 20 miles (32 kilometers) south in neighboring West Virginia.

"I make too much for Medicaid and not enough that we can afford insurance. It's a difficult situation," Himelrick, 62, said at a clinic in nearby Burton, where she pays for medical treatment in cash, according to what she can afford.

Like millions in Appalachia, both women voted for Donald Trump in last November's election seeking to upend the political system. The Affordable Care Act, they insist, is not the answer to their health woes.

But both would face dramatic changes to their health care -- probably for the worse, at least at first -- if Obamacare is replaced by the plan being hashed out by Republican lawmakers in Washington, a cultural and political world away.

Local clinics are a lifeline for many in this economically stagnant, overwhelmingly white region. Ambulance coverage is spotty, and rough roads with rougher weather can leave insular communities even more isolated in emergencies.

Now that Trump is president, the reforms installed by his predecessor Barack Obama are under threat, potentially spelling disaster for several community health centers in Pennsylvania and neighboring West Virginia.

"There are a lot of things that need to be straightened out" with health care, but shuttering local clinics "would be a concern to me," Himelrick conceded. Lawmakers should "tread lightly."

- Safety nets -

The Cornerstone Care CHC in Rogersville, which treats Coote, and several other facilities serve an area where coal mines have recently closed, pushing up unemployment, and where health facilities can be 20 miles or more apart.

"We are the safety net for this community," Janice Morris, chief executive of the Clay-Battelle CHC in Blacksville, West Virginia, said in an interview.

Under Obamacare, several states have expanded Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor and disabled, to include residents whose income is at or below 138 percent of the poverty level.

But with some 670,000 people in Pennsylvania and 175,000 in West Virginia eligible for Medicaid through the expansion, a rollback of the program as proposed in the Republican plan would "have a terrible impact there," Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, told AFP back in Washington.

At Clay-Battelle clinic, nearly half of the patients are either on Medicaid or Medicare, the coverage program for the elderly.

Many of the clinic's 300 to 400 weekly patients pay on a scale according to their financial ability -- a system known as "the slide."

The clinic covers the slack through Medicaid and commercial insurance reimbursements, federal and state funding, and grants.

Obamacare has helped Clay-Battelle and Cornerstone lower the rate of uninsured who get treatment there. The resulting increase in reimbursements have translated into expanding staff and hours of operation.

That could crumble if Obamacare disappears.

"A lot of people don't recognize that the health coverage they have was made possible through the Affordable Care Act," Morris said.

- 'Getting whipsawed' -

Don Humbertson, 64, says he owes his life to Clay-Battell doctors who discovered he had lung cancer.

The retired concrete worker is insured through his wife's bus-driver job, but he has grown to appreciate how Obamacare has given those in need a chance.

"Obamacare when it first came out, I was totally against it," said Humbertson, who has had difficulty breathing and speaking since part of his right lung was removed.

"But I've seen how it was helping some people."

Instead of pulling it out by its roots, he said, Republicans and Democrats should come together and fix the current law.

That is not what's happening.

Republican leaders are keen to keep popular provisions that bar companies from refusing to insure people because of pre-existing conditions.

But in a bid to provide more free-market choice and competition, they want to slash the amount of subsidies that would be provided for Americans to buy health care, potentially putting insurance out of reach for millions.

The bill is hanging by a thread, with the House of Representatives likely to vote on the measure Friday.

"We feel like we're just getting whipsawed around," Cornerstone Care chief executive Richard Rinehart said.

"We're in the trenches, we're dealing with these health issues that are real."

Cornerstone operates another clinic in the larger town of Waynesburg, where coal silos, conveyors and green buildings of the shuttered Emerald Mine stand as ghostly reminders of better days.

In Trump country, many health workers are aware of the irony of a Republican law appearing likely to hurt health centers' ability to care for the very people who voted the president into office.

"I see it very personally," Morris said. "Many of our staff people are Trump supporters."

But health outcomes of Americans are "at risk" because of the Republican plan, he added.

"I would urge them to really think about those people in rural America that they got support from... Don't turn your back on them."

Republican plan to replace Obamacare: what’s new in it?

The House of Representatives votes Thursday on long-awaited legislation endorsed by US President Donald Trump that replaces his predecessor’s health care reforms.Supporters hail the plan as a more free-market, patient-centered system. But how would it …

The House of Representatives votes Thursday on long-awaited legislation endorsed by US President Donald Trump that replaces his predecessor's health care reforms.

Supporters hail the plan as a more free-market, patient-centered system.

But how would it work?

Here are key points about the current health care system -- which is credited with helping 20 million Americans acquire coverage but has been blamed for rising premiums and other costs -- and the proposed changes in the Republican substitute.

- No more mandatory coverage -

In the United States, health insurance is primarily private. About half of Americans have coverage through their employers, often at a reasonable cost, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

About a third of Americans are covered by government plans -- either Medicare for those over the age of 65 or Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor.

The rest have to fend for themselves, and either buy insurance on their own or do not have coverage, paying cash for their medical expenses. Costs for these groups can be very high.

Under Barack Obama's reforms, individuals and many companies are required to either have or offer health insurance or pay a penalty.

Forcing younger, healthier people to buy coverage was expected to help defray medical costs for poorer, older, sicker Americans.

The replacement bill scraps those conditions in favor of a system of tax credits aimed at helping people purchase health insurance on the open market.

But Democrats warn that those credits are on average less than the subsidies built into Obamacare's premiums, especially for older Americans who are not yet eligible for Medicare.

- Keeping what's good -

Despite Republican calls throughout last year's election campaign to completely kill off Obamacare, the substitute aims to keep two very popular provisions.

It protects the rule that insurance companies cannot refuse coverage to anyone due to a pre-existing condition, and it allows dependents to remain on their parents' insurance plan until the age of 26.

- Big changes -

The Republican substitute would repeal some taxes on health care-related expenses that were created by Obamacare. And it no longer will limit the tax break for employer-sponsored health coverage.

Obamacare allowed the expansion of Medicaid, but the new bill would cap federal reimbursements, potentially to the detriment of those living in states that underwent the expansion.

Result: A scoring by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which estimates the costs of a piece of legislation to the federal government, said 14 million Americans would lose coverage in 2018 under the new plan, and 24 million by 2026, effectively erasing the gains of Obamacare.

Since then, the text has been tweaked and so those totals could change.

- Conservative backlash -

Minority Democrats are expected to unanimously oppose the plan, forcing the Republican majority to nearly unite to get it over the finish line.

But a conservative backlash is underway -- some Republicans have called it "Obamacare Light" and are negotiating. Some concessions have been made ahead of Thursday's vote.

They say they want the tax credits totally eliminated, arguing they are just a government handout like Obamacare subsidies by another name.

Republican governors and lawmakers from states that expanded Medicaid have warned against any measure that disrupts current funding structures and consequently leaves vulnerable citizens without coverage.

If the House passes it, the Senate will take up the measure next week -- with further amendments surely to come.

In the Senate, Republicans hold a 52-48 majority, meaning three Republican defections could sink the bill.

New vaccine against rotavirus could curb child deaths

A new vaccine that is cheap to make and does not require refrigeration has shown promise in preventing rotavirus, a contagious and fatal disease that disproportionately strikes children in Africa, researchers said Wednesday.A trial in Niger found that …

A new vaccine that is cheap to make and does not require refrigeration has shown promise in preventing rotavirus, a contagious and fatal disease that disproportionately strikes children in Africa, researchers said Wednesday.

A trial in Niger found that the new vaccine was almost 67 percent effective in preventing gastroenteritis caused by rotavirus, which is the most common cause of severe diarrheal disease in the world.

More than 500,000 children die each year from dehydration and complications of rotavirus, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

There are already two vaccines on the market against rotavirus, but they require refrigeration and can be costly.

"This trial brings a vaccine which is adapted to African settings to those who need it most," said Sheila Isanaka, assistant professor of nutrition at Harvard University and co-author of the study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"When the vaccine becomes widely available in Africa, it will help protect millions of the most vulnerable children."

The vaccine, called BRV-PV, is manufactured by Serum Institute of India.

The randomized, controlled trial involved 3,508 healthy infants who received three doses of the vaccine or placebo at 6, 10, and 14 weeks of age.

About a month after the final dose, far fewer children who had been vaccinated showed signs of diarrhea, vomiting and stomach distress from rotavirus.

"At 28 days after the third dose of vaccine or placebo, severe rotavirus gastroenteritis had been reported in 31 infants in the vaccine group and in 87 in the placebo group," said the study.

The new vaccine's efficacy of 67 percent was higher than the RotaTeq vaccine, which was 39.3 percent effective according to a previous trial.

A similar trial in South Africa and Malawi found the efficacy of the Rotarix vaccine was 61.2 percent, according to background information in the article.

The BRV-PV vaccine has been licensed in India. It is awaiting prequalification by the World Health Organization before it can be purchased by the United Nations and government agencies.

Although 27 children in the vaccine part of the study died, along with 22 in the placebo group, researchers said their deaths were unrelated to the vaccine.

The "most common causes of death were infections and infestations (in 37 infants) and metabolism and nutrition disorders," said the study.

No serious adverse events were found to be linked to the vaccine.

"After the successful clinical trial of this new vaccine, we hope that it can be made available as soon as possible to children in Niger and across Africa," Isanaka said.

Migrants at risk of drug-resistant TB in Europe

In the late 19th century, an estimated one in seven Europeans was dying of tuberculosis, then known as “consumption” for its slow, remorseless wasting of the human body.Now, after decades of low TB rates thanks to antibiotics and strong public health s…

In the late 19th century, an estimated one in seven Europeans was dying of tuberculosis, then known as "consumption" for its slow, remorseless wasting of the human body.

Now, after decades of low TB rates thanks to antibiotics and strong public health systems, the continent is threatened by a new and different form of the lung disease -- one which cannot easily be cured with existing drugs.

And the people most at risk, experts say, are migrants and refugees who often find themselves in densely-populated, unsanitary, disease-favourable conditions similar to those blamed for Europe's Victorian era "Great White Plague".

"Although rare in European countries, the risks posed by the current migrant crisis makes MDR-TB (multi- drug-resistant tuberculosis) an important and urgent health priority," the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID) said in a recent statement.

And it warned there was a "human rights obligation" to improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of drug-resistant tuburculosis in migrants.

Infections on European soil were mainly among migrants themselves, and public health experts stress they should be viewed as a vulnerable group in need of help -- not disease spreaders.

A hundred percent of MDR-TB cases in Austria, the Netherlands and Norway were diagnosed in migrants and refugees, said the ESCMID, and around 90 percent in Britain, France, Italy and Germany.

This represented just over 1,400 cases in 12 countries in 2014.

- Access denied -

Some migrants may arrive already sick with MDR-TB, others with a latent, unobserved infection.

Some may catch these dangerous germs on overcrowded refugee boats or in work or migrant camps.

"Migrants are among the most susceptible groups to tuberculosis," Michel Kazatchkine, the UN secretary-general's special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, told AFP.

"Most of them acquire a disease in the host country," he said.

Drug-resistant TB strains are more difficult and expensive to treat.

Symptoms are not immediately visible, and the disease can spread easily from one person to another via coughing, sneezing, or simply talking.

But many cases may never be spotted, as European countries do not have a standardised approach to screening.

Migrants may be refused access to treatment or may not know how to, and others might want to avoid a positive diagnosis for fear of being deported.

"The situation in Europe is such that governments are now tightening up in terms of who is able to access free statutory health services," Sally Hargreaves of the International Health Unit at Imperial College London, told AFP.

In 2015 alone, Europe received a million migrants from war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East.

"There's very little evidence to suggest that migrants pose a major threat to the general population of a country they go to in health terms," Nicholas Beeching of the ESCMID's Study Group on Infections in Travellers and Migrants told AFP.

"Nevertheless, of course it presents a challenge because we want to identify people with MDR-TB and make sure that they get appropriate treatment and also make sure it doesn't spread within their own community... and the general community."

- Pre-antibiotic era -

In 2015, about half-a-million people worldwide developed MDR-TB and the even more resistant strain XDR-TB, according to the World Health Organization.

One in five were in the WHO's European region, which comprises 53 countries including from hard-hit eastern Europe and Russia.

Treatment was successful in under half of MDR-TB patients and less than a third for XDR-TB -- a rate which "approximates that... seen in the pre-antimicrobial era," the journal Clinical Microbiology and Infection warned in its March edition.

"If drug resistance increases substantially, TB elimination will become more difficult if not impossible, to achieve."

TB, an infection of the lungs that can be deadly if untreated, killed some 1.8 million people worldwide in 2015 and infected 10.4 million.

It remains the top infectious killer worldwide -- particularly in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, which also has the most MDR-TB cases.

MDR-TB does not respond to the two most potent TB drugs -- isoniazid and rifampin, and XDR-TB to an even longer list.

"While anyone can contract TB, the disease thrives among people living in poverty, communities and groups that are marginalised and other vulnerable populations," the WHO says in a message for World TB Day on Friday -- migrants and refugees among them.

"Addressing the health needs of the disadvantaged, the marginalised, those out of reach of the health system, will mean improving access to health services for everyone."

UNICEF decries sale of Cambodian breast milk to US mothers

UNICEF on Wednesday condemned a company selling breast milk from “vulnerable and poor” Cambodian mothers to Americans, hitting out at the commercialisation of nutrients needed by babies inside the kingdom.The issue emerged this week after Cambodia said…

UNICEF on Wednesday condemned a company selling breast milk from "vulnerable and poor" Cambodian mothers to Americans, hitting out at the commercialisation of nutrients needed by babies inside the kingdom.

The issue emerged this week after Cambodia said it had halted exports from Utah-based company Ambrosia Labs, which claims to be the first of its kind to bank human breast milk sourced overseas and export it into the United States.

The firm's customers are American mothers who want to supplement their babies' diets or cannot supply enough of their own milk.

The milk is pumped in Cambodia, frozen and shipped to the US where it is pasteurised and sold by the company for $20 each 5 oz (147 ml) pack -- roughly the volume of half a can of Coke.

Those donating their breast milk hailed from poor communities in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh, where the scheme helped families top up meagre incomes.

On Monday Cambodia's customs department said it had stopped exports temporarily "because the product comes from a human organ" adding the government planned to hold talks on whether to let the trade continue.

UNICEF -- the arm of the UN protecting children -- said excess breast milk should remain in Cambodia, one of Southeast Asia's poorest countries, where many babies lack good nutrients. "Breast milk banks should never be operated by exploiting vulnerable and poor women for profit and commercial purposes," Iman Morooka, the agency spokeswoman in Cambodia, told AFP.

"Breast milk could be considered as human tissue, the same as blood, and as such its commercialisation should be banned," she said.

Malnutrition "remains a threat to children's wellbeing in Cambodia, and proper breastfeeding is one of the key factors contributing to a child's good health and nutrition", she added.

Cambodian Health Minister Mam Bunheng declined to comment on the issue when contacted by AFP on Wednesday.

Ambrosia Labs did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In previous press interviews the firm said its model encouraged Cambodian women to continue breast feeding, earned them much needed extra income and helped plug milk bank shortages in the US.

AFP visited the offices of Ambrosia Labs last week in Stung Meanchey, a poor suburb of Phnom Penh.

The office, which is labelled Khun Meada (mother's gratitude), was closed and women who sold their milk said they had been told operations were suspended.

Chea Sam, a 30-year-old mother, told AFP during an interview last week that she had been selling her breast milk for the last three months following the birth of her son.

She said she earned $7.5-$10 a day and she knew at least 20 other mothers doing the same.

In videos posted on the Facebook page of Khun Meada, several mothers appealed to the government to let them sell their milk to the company.

Trump says Republicans uniting on health care, but resistance remains

US President Donald Trump said Friday he has won over several Republican lawmakers skeptical of the Obamacare replacement and insisted the health care overhaul was “coming together beautifully,” despite resistance from some in his party.”We have a plan…

US President Donald Trump said Friday he has won over several Republican lawmakers skeptical of the Obamacare replacement and insisted the health care overhaul was "coming together beautifully," despite resistance from some in his party.

"We have a plan that's getting more and more popular with the Republican base," Trump said at a joint press conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Earlier the president met with a dozen members of the conservative Republican Study Committee, which has gone on record saying they want important changes to what is being called the American Health Care Act. Trump said he won them over.

"These folks were no's, mostly no's yesterday. And now every single one is a yes" on the legislation, Trump said.

"They all have given me a commitment that they're voting for our health plan."

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the bill, which Trump said he backs "100 percent," on Thursday, in what may be the most important congressional vote yet in the Trump era.

Keenly aware of the importance of the vote, Trump portrayed himself as a leader bridging divides between factions.

"I think I have a unified party," Trump stressed.

But several Republicans who were not at the White House huddle have voiced either outright opposition or deep reservations, putting the outcome of the vote in doubt.

The House Freedom Caucus, comprised of 30 far-right Republicans, threw cold water on Trump's pronouncements.

"The House Freedom Caucus still opposes the GOP replacement bill in its current form," the group tweeted.

- Obamacare Lite? -

Some conservatives have said the Republican plan is too similar to Obamacare in that it replaces the 2010 law's health coverage subsidies with tax credits that fulfill a similar role.

They also call for changes to the provision that rolls back the expansion of Medicaid, the health coverage program for the poor and the disabled.

Republican Study Committee chairman Mark Walker, who attended Friday's meeting with Trump, has said his group's 170 members support instituting work requirements for able-bodied, childless adults on Medicaid.

Some conservatives also want to see the Medicaid expansion ended after 2017, not 2020 as required in the bill.

Moderate Republicans are nervous that the plan would cause struggling families to suffer, a prospect highlighted this week by a damning congressional projection that 24 million people could lose insurance within a decade under the new bill.

Trump signaled that he and the Republicans in the meeting agreed to having the legislation "rejiggered."

"It's coming together beautifully," he said.

Trump is reportedly considering a change that would make the tax credits more generous for low-income people, especially adults between ages 50 and 64, and adding a Medicaid work requirement.

The key question is whether the changes will convince enough Republicans to toe the line and help pass the bill in the House, where the party can afford no more than 21 defections if all Democrats vote no, as expected.

House Republican Justin Amash was having none of Trump's strong-arm tactics.

"Absolutely not true that conservatives have flipped to yes on the health care bill," Amash wrote on Twitter. "It doesn't repeal Obamacare. It remains a disaster."

Twenty-three Republicans including Amash have gone on record either opposing the bill or leaning against it, according to a CNN tally. None on that list was in the White House meeting.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, one of the bill's architects and chief champions, refused to say this week whether the bill could pass his chamber without changes.

On Thursday he acknowledged the legislation would need "improvements," but it remained unclear just how or when the changes would be made before Thursday's vote.

The overhaul is also encountering resistance from some Republicans in the Senate, where the party holds a slim 52-48 majority. If three Republicans vote no, along with expected full Democratic opposition, the bill would fail.

High-cost drug helps slash cholesterol in sick patients

A new cholesterol-lowering drug evolocumab helps high-risk patients reduce the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke, but its high cost raises questions about how many patients will benefit, researchers said Friday.The results of a two-year clinical t…

A new cholesterol-lowering drug evolocumab helps high-risk patients reduce the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke, but its high cost raises questions about how many patients will benefit, researchers said Friday.

The results of a two-year clinical trial on the drug sold as Repatha by Amgen Phamaceuticals that costs more than $14,000 a year were released at the American College of Cardiology annual conference in the US capital.

The randomized trial involved 27,564 people who had experienced a prior heart attack or stroke, or who had significantly clogged arteries that limited blood flow to their limbs.

Evolocumab reduced low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, by 59 percent.

It also decreased the risk of heart attack or stroke or cardiovascular death by 15 percent in the first year and 25 percent in the second year.

"The drug was safe and well-tolerated," said lead study author Marc Sabatine, chair of cardiovascular medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Experts not involved in the study described it as "exciting" and "major," but urged caution due to the high cost of the medication.

"This is very expensive stuff," said Valentin Fuster, physician in chief at Mt Sinai Medical Hospital in New York.

Fuster also noted that in absolute numbers, the drug saved about two percent of lives.

"We have to be very cautious in terms of the enthusiasm," he told reporters at the conference.

Roxana Mehran, professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, described the findings as "probably the most important trial here" at the ACC meeting, which is the largest annual gathering of cardiologists in the United States.

"Certainly America cannot afford to be giving this to every patient," she added.

"While we don't want to ration great care, we do need to figure out how to pay for this."

- New class -

Evolocumab is part of a new class of drugs called PCSK9 inhibitors, which are monoclonal antibodies that help lower cholesterol.

Some patients who are unable to take traditional cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins, due to their side effects, may be able to take PCSK9 inhibitors instead.

Patients report few side effects from Repatha, which acts differently than statins and does not cause the muscle pain and weakness that some statin users experience.

Repatha gained US Food and Drug Administration approval in 2015.

But its price, and the lack of data on its effectiveness until now, have limited its use.

"The biggest challenge is getting it covered by insurance," Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women's heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told AFP.

"When we see a trial like this, I think that the use is going to up exponentially," she added, describing the study -- the largest and most extensive of its kind to date when it comes to Repatha -- as "pretty exciting."

"As demand and use goes up, the insurance companies usually follow," Steinbaum said.

- Epidemic of heart disease -

Heart disease and stroke are the number one killers worldwide, taking 15 million lives in 2015, according to the World Health Organization.

In the United States, heart disease accounts for one in every four deaths, and kills more than 600,000 people every year.

Stubbornly high cholesterol is a key risk factor.

The study showed evolocumab reduced LDL cholesterol by 59 percent, from a median of 92 to 30 mg/dL.

This made "a dramatic difference," even if the drug could save just two percent of patients' lives, said Kevin Marzo, chief of the division of cardiology at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, New York, who was not involved in the study.

"In a disease that affects hundreds of thousands, that is a big difference, preventing a lot of heart attacks, a lot of urgent hospitalizations," he told AFP.

Financial analysts were more critical of the drug's high cost, and Amgen shares fell 6.6 percent by midday, following the release of the study.

"At a cost of $7,000 a year, this translates to $958,000 per event saved," Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal wrote in a note published by CNBC.

"Thus, in our view, payers will continue to restrict access to the drug."

The study showed the drug prevents only one cardiovascular event per 137 treated patients, he said.

Trump says has won over skeptical Republicans to Obamacare overhaul

US President Donald Trump, after meeting with Republican lawmakers skeptical of the Obamacare replacement plan, announced Friday that he has succeeded in winning their support for the controversial healthcare overhaul.”These folks were no’s, mostly no’…

US President Donald Trump, after meeting with Republican lawmakers skeptical of the Obamacare replacement plan, announced Friday that he has succeeded in winning their support for the controversial healthcare overhaul.

"These folks were no's, mostly no's yesterday. And now every single one is a yes" on the American Health Care Act, Trump said after a meeting with a dozen members of the Republican Study Committee, which has gone on record saying they want important changes to the legislation.

"They all have given me a commitment that they're voting for our health plan."

The bill, which Trump said he backs "100 percent," faces a crunch vote next week in the House of Representatives.

Several Republicans have expressed deep reservations, putting the outcome of the vote in doubt.

Some conservatives have said the Republican plan is too similar to Obamacare in that it replaces that law's health coverage subsidies with refundable tax credits that fulfill a similar role.

They also call for changes to the provision that rolls back the expansion of Medicaid, the health coverage program for the poor and the disabled.

Republican Study Committee chairman Mark Walker, who attended Friday's meeting with Trump, has said his group's 170 members support instituting work requirements for able-bodied, childless adults on Medicaid.

Some conservatives also want to see the Medicaid expansion ended after 2017, not 2020 as required in the bill.

Some moderate Republicans are nervous that the plan would cause struggling families to suffer, a prospect highlighted this week by a damning congressional projection that 24 million people could lose insurance within a decade under the new bill.

It was unclear what transpired in the White House meeting to bring concerned conservatives on board, but Trump signaled that they discussed alterations to the legislation.

"We have rejiggered it," Trump told reporters afterward. "We've done some great things," and "health care looks like it's really happening."

The key question is whether Trump is able to convince enough Republicans to toe the line and help pass the bill in the House, where Republicans can afford no more than 21 defections if all Democrats vote no, as expected.

House Republican Justin Amash was having none of Trump's strongarm tactics.

"Absolutely not true that conservatives have flipped to yes on the health care bill," Amash wrote on Twitter. "It doesn't repeal Obamacare. It remains a disaster."

UK hospital authorised to create ‘three-parent’ babies

An English hospital on Thursday became the nation’s first to win authorisation to use the three-person fertility technique in an effort to prevent inherited disease. Britain last year became the first country in the world to legally offer such a treatm…

An English hospital on Thursday became the nation's first to win authorisation to use the three-person fertility technique in an effort to prevent inherited disease.

Britain last year became the first country in the world to legally offer such a treatment after parliament approved legislation in December.

Doctors at the Newcastle Fertility Centre in northeast England will however not be able to go ahead with technique until an application by an individual patient has been approved.

"This significant decision represents the culmination of many years hard work by researchers, clinical experts and regulators," said Sally Cheshire, head of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

"Patients will now be able to apply individually to the HFEA to undergo mitochondrial donation treatment at Newcastle, which will be life-changing for them, as they seek to avoid passing on serious genetic diseases to future generations," she said.

British lawmakers voted in 2016 to allow the treatment, in which the DNA of the mother, father and a female donor are combined to create a baby.

Mitochondria are structures in cells which generate vital energy and contain their own set of genes called mDNA which is passed through the mother.

Mitochondrial diseases cause symptoms ranging from poor vision to diabetes and muscle wasting, and health officials estimate around 125 babies are born with the mutations in Britain every year.

The first baby conceived using mitochondrial donation was born in 2016 in Mexico, where there are no rules on its use, but Britain is the first to officially authorise it.

Around 3,000 British families could benefit from the therapy, but Cheshire said she expected that "many won't come forward".

The treatment remains controversial in Britain and elsewhere, with religious leaders among its detractors.

The Roman Catholic Church opposes the move, pointing out that it would involve the destruction of human embryos as part of the process, while the Church of England has said ethical concerns "have not been sufficiently explored".

The Newcastle clinic said it was "delighted".

"This announcement gives a hope and silver lining as we all strive together to help these women," said Meenakshi Choudhary, consultant gynaecologist at the clinic.

Adam Balen, chair of the British Fertility Society said it was "a historical step towards eradicating genetic disease".

Unproven stem cell therapy causes three women to go blind

An unproven stem cell therapy that involves extracting a patient’s fat tissue and injecting it into the eyes has caused three US women to go blind, a report said Wednesday.The women, aged between 72 and 88, were treated in Florida in 2015 for a progre…

An unproven stem cell therapy that involves extracting a patient's fat tissue and injecting it into the eyes has caused three US women to go blind, a report said Wednesday.

The women, aged between 72 and 88, were treated in Florida in 2015 for a progressive eye disease called macular degeneration, said the report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

They thought they were enrolling in a legitimate clinical trial, having found it under the title: "Study to assess the safety and effects of cells injected intravitreal in dry macular degeneration" on ClinicalTrials.gov, the US government website for such research.

However, they immediately suffered complications, including retinal detachment and hemorrhage, which caused total loss of eyesight.

The clinic and patients involved were not named in the study, which was co-authored by Thomas Albini, associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of Miami.

Two of the patients sought treatment at the university's hospital for the complications they suffered.

"There's a lot of hope for stem cells, and these types of clinics appeal to patients desperate for care who hope that stem cells are going to be the answer," said Albini.

"But in this case these women participated in a clinical enterprise that was off-the-charts dangerous."

- Red flags -

The procedure claimed to use adipose-derived stem cells to restore vision.

Patients had fat cells removed from their abdomens. This fat tissue was processed with enzymes in order to get stem cells, which would be mixed with platelet-dense plasma and injected into their eyes.

Albini said the complications could have been caused by contamination during the mixing process, or the stem cells, once injected into the eye, could have changed into a type of cell that led to scarring.

Whatever happened, experts said there was no evidence to suggest the procedure would have helped restore vision, since so little study has been done on whether adipose-derived stem cells can mature into the kinds of retinal cells that are involved in macular degeneration.

"Reading this article gives me chills down my spine," said Nazanin Barzideh, chief of vitreoretinal surgery at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, New York, who was not involved in the study.

"There were so many red flags," she told AFP.

Among them, the patients received injections in both eyes at the same time, when more responsible physicians would have tried one first to see how the patient reacted to the procedure before doing the other eye.

"You do not do a bilateral injection in the same setting," she said.

Also, the patients were asked to pay $5,000 each for the procedure, which is a signal of fraud since clinical trials do not charge patients to participate.

"There is also no basic evidence for this trial," she said, urging patients to always seek a second opinion from a medical professional before agreeing to any therapy.

Another outside expert, Sung Chul Park, director of the Glaucoma Clinic at Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, agreed.

"These cases emphasize the importance of evidence-based medicine in patient care," he said.

- Call to awareness -

Co-author Jeffrey Goldberg, professor and chair of ophthalmology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, described the report as a "call to awareness for patients, physicians and regulatory agencies of the risks of this kind of minimally regulated, patient-funded research."

The US Food and Drug Administration has since released more specific guidelines requiring regulatory oversight and approval for these types of procedures.

Clinical trials can be confusing, so Goldberg recommended patients search online for "A Closer Look at Stem Cells," by the International Society for Stem Cell Research, for more information.

"Although numerous stem cell therapies for medical disorders are being investigated at research institutions with appropriate regulatory oversight, many stem cell clinics are treating patients with little oversight and with no proof of efficacy," said the study.

Curbing pollution can prevent 3 mn Chinese deaths a year: study

China can avoid three million premature deaths each year if it slashes a type of fine particle air pollution to UN recommended levels, a study said Wednesday.The average daily particle concentration in 38 of China’s largest cities between January 2010 …

China can avoid three million premature deaths each year if it slashes a type of fine particle air pollution to UN recommended levels, a study said Wednesday.

The average daily particle concentration in 38 of China's largest cities between January 2010 and June 2013 was about 93 microgrammes per cubic metre (ug/m3) of air, researchers reported in The BMJ medical journal.

This was way over the World Health Organization (WHO) standard of 20 ug/m3.

The measurement applies to so-called PM10 particles, which are less than 10 microns or 10 millionths of a metre across -- several times thinner than a human hair.

Generated by the burning of coal and oil in cars and power plants, but also forest fires, volcanic eruptions and dust storms, airborne fine particles can penetrate into the airways to cause respiratory problems.

They also blacken buildings and contribute to acid rain.

Over 350,000 deaths were reported in the 38 Chinese cities chosen for the study in three-and-a-half years, said the researchers.

They calculated that every 10 ug/m3 increase in daily PM10 concentrations was associated with a 0.44-percent rise in daily deaths, mainly from cardiorespiratory ailments such as asthma and chronic lung disease.

People over 60 had a higher risk of death from particle pollution, and women were more affected than men, said the team.

Extrapolating to the country as a whole, China "would save three million premature deaths each year" by reducing the daily PM10 level to the WHO standard, they calculated -- likely a conservative estimate.

Premature deaths are defined by researchers as people dying before reaching a certain, expected age for their peer group. Many of these deaths are considered preventable.

"Our findings suggest that adopting and enforcing tighter air quality standards in China will bring about tremendous public health benefits," said the study.

China, India, Iran and Indonesia are among the countries hardest hit by air pollution. New Delhi, for example, has been known to exceed PM10 levels of 700 ug/m3.

Another important measure of air pollution is so-called PM2.5 fine particles, whose diameter is 2.5 microns or less.

They are a particular source of worry for health monitors as they are light and tiny and can reach even deeper into the lungs. The study focused on PM10 pollution.

Canadians with cystic fibrosis live 10 yrs longer than Americans

Canadians with cystic fibrosis, an inherited disease which attacks the lungs, tend to live a decade longer than Americans suffering from it, likely due to diet, medical insurance and the availability of transplants, researchers said Monday.The median -…

Canadians with cystic fibrosis, an inherited disease which attacks the lungs, tend to live a decade longer than Americans suffering from it, likely due to diet, medical insurance and the availability of transplants, researchers said Monday.

The median -- or midpoint -- age of survival for people with cystic fibrosis in Canada is 50.9 years compared to 40.6 years in the United States, said the report in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Furthermore, people in Canada with CF faced a 34 percent lower risk of dying than their US counterparts, when researchers took account of factors such as age and the severity of the disease.

The study, funded by the US Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, compared records on more than 45,000 US patients to nearly 6,000 Canadian patients.

The lifespan findings focus on the last five years of data available, from 2009 to 2013.

"Survival has increased in both countries, but Canada began to see greater improvements than the United States starting in 1995, with an even more dramatic increase in the survival rate in Canada noted in 2005," said Anne Stephenson, cystic fibrosis researcher at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

The study did not delve into the reasons for the difference, but experts say clues are available.

Beginning in the 1970s, Canadians with cystic fibrosis were exposed to a high fat diet, which has been shown to improve their survival and could have led to better lifespan rates by the mid-1990s.

The United States did not pick up on this trend until the 1980s.

Lung transplants -- one of the few treatments for cystic fibrosis that can boost survival -- are more common in Canada than in the United States.

When it came to health insurance, no difference was seen in survival when comparing US patients with private health care insurance compared to Canadians who have universal, publicly funded healthcare coverage.

"However, Canadians had a 44 percent lower risk for death than US patients receiving continuous Medicaid or Medicare," said the study, referring to US government funded healthcare programs for the poor and elderly.

Canadians had a 77 percent lower risk of dying compared to people with unknown or no health insurance.

Cystic fibrosis is a chronic disease caused by a faulty gene. It affects the lungs and digestive system, leading to thick mucus buildup in the lungs.

14 mn more uninsured under Republican plan in 2018: US budget office

About 14 million fewer Americans will have health insurance next year under the new Republican plan to replace the Obamacare reforms, Congress’s nonpartisan budget analysis office projected Monday. It also said that enacting the legislation currently b…

About 14 million fewer Americans will have health insurance next year under the new Republican plan to replace the Obamacare reforms, Congress's nonpartisan budget analysis office projected Monday.

It also said that enacting the legislation currently before Congress -- a measure backed by President Donald Trump -- would reduce the federal deficit by some $337 billion over the next decade, a relatively small savings given the massive size of the US economy.

"In 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured under the legislation than under current law," the Congressional Budget Office said in its highly-anticipated report about the budget impacts of the new bill, known as the American Health Care Act.

CBO said the number of people without health coverage would soar in subsequent years, "to 21 million in 2020 and then to 24 million in 2026" compared to those currently insured under the reforms implemented by Trump's Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.

It also said that average health coverage premiums would rise by 15 to 20 percent in 2018 and 2019 for individual policy holders, "mainly because the individual mandate penalties would be eliminated, inducing fewer comparatively healthy people to sign up."

Premiums would begin decreasing by 2020 due to grants that could bump up tax credits to poor or working-class Americans, and because younger people would be projected to sign up for coverage.

But costs by 2026 would remain some 20 to 25 percent higher for people age 55 to 64, CBO said.

Despite the high number of Americans estimated to lose their health care, House Speaker Paul Ryan offered an optimistic take on the CBO score.

"This report confirms that the American Health Care Act will lower premiums and improve access to quality, affordable care," Ryan said.

"I recognize and appreciate concerns about making sure people have access to coverage," he added. "Under Obamacare, we have seen how government-mandated coverage does not equal access to care, and now the law is collapsing."

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said the report should serve as "a looming stop sign" for Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare.

"The CBO score shows just how empty the president's promises, that everyone will be covered and costs will go down, have been."

China’s elderly live longer, but are less fit: study

The number and proportion of people in China over 80 is growing, but their mental and physical fitness appear to be declining, scientists reported Friday.Comparing medical data and surveys from 1998 and 2008 of nearly 20,000 people aged 80 to 105, rese…

The number and proportion of people in China over 80 is growing, but their mental and physical fitness appear to be declining, scientists reported Friday.

Comparing medical data and surveys from 1998 and 2008 of nearly 20,000 people aged 80 to 105, researchers found that the ranks of China's 'oldest old' had expanded since the turn of the century.

For octogenarians and nonagenarians, mortality fell by nearly one percent over that decade, they reported in the medical journal The Lancet.

For the 100-and-up club, death rates dropped nearly three percent.

The 'over 80' cohort is by far the fastest rising age group in the country.

At the same time, however, physical and cognitive function showed a small but significant deterioration.

Simple tasks -- standing up from a chair, for example, or picking up a book off the floor -- were harder to perform, while scores on memory tests slumped.

"This has clear policy implications for health systems and social care, not only in China but also globally," the authors concluded.

"Many more state-subsidised public and private programmes and enterprises are urgently needed to provide services to meet the needs of the rapidly growing elderly population," especially those over 80.

Paradoxically, the 2008 respondents reported less difficulty in performing daily activities -- such as eating, dressing and bathing -- than those born a decade earlier.

The scientists, led by Yi Zeng, a professor at the National School of Development at Beijing University, chalked this up to improved amenities and tools, but said more research was needed.

The findings illustrate the tug-of-war between two approaches to assessing ageing populations, whether in rich or developing countries.

One emphasises the "benefits of success": people living longer with lower levels of disability because of healthier lifestyles, better healthcare and higher incomes.

By contrast, the "cost of success" theory suggests that living longer might mean that individuals survive life-threatening illnesses but live with chronic health problems as a result.

The new study shows that both theories are at play, and that governments will need to adapt under either scenario.

"The findings provide a clear warning message to societies with ageing populations," Yi said in a statement.

"Although lifespans are increasing, other elements of health are both improving and deteriorating, leading to a variety of health and social needs in the oldest-old population."

Whether it means providing long-term care for the disabled, or work and social opportunities for healthy octogenarians, adjusting to an ageing population will require planning and investment, the researchers concluded.

Police across Canada raid marijuana stores

Canadian police on Thursday raided nearly a dozen stores selling marijuana in several cities, after arresting a prominent pot activist and his wife.Search warrants were executed at 11 Cannabis Culture stores in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Vancouver, …

Canadian police on Thursday raided nearly a dozen stores selling marijuana in several cities, after arresting a prominent pot activist and his wife.

Search warrants were executed at 11 Cannabis Culture stores in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Vancouver, according to a statement.

On Wednesday night self-proclaimed "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery and his wife Jodie, who own the stores, were arrested as they waited at the Toronto airport to board a flight to Spain to attend a festival.

The coordinated police operation came as the government reaffirmed its commitment to legalize recreational use of marijuana, but asked for patience.

"We (will be) the first OECD country in the world to do this, so we want to make sure that this is done properly," Health Minister Jane Philpott said.

"And people need to recognize it will take some time."

Medical marijuana use has been regulated in Canada since 2001. But cannabis remains a controlled drug.

Over the last two years, dozens of storefronts have opened in cities across Canada to sell pot, operating in what they call a "grey area" ahead of legalization as they vie for market share.

Officials have been cracking down, but the shops often open up mere days after being raided and closed.

Marc Emery has been arrested a number of times over his pro-cannabis activism.

He was released from a US prison in 2014 after serving a nearly five year sentence for selling marijuana seeds by mail to US customers from his Vancouver dispensary.

Unhealthy eating is linked to 400,000 US deaths per year: study

Unhealthy eating habits can be blamed for more than 400,000 US deaths a year due to heart disease and related illnesses, researchers said Thursday.The problem is twofold: Americans are eating too much salty, fatty and sugary fare, and not enough fruit,…

Unhealthy eating habits can be blamed for more than 400,000 US deaths a year due to heart disease and related illnesses, researchers said Thursday.

The problem is twofold: Americans are eating too much salty, fatty and sugary fare, and not enough fruit, vegetables and whole grains, experts said at a meeting of the American Heart Association in Portland, Oregon.

"Low intake of healthy foods such as nuts, vegetables, whole grains and fruits combined with higher intake of unhealthy dietary components, such as salt and trans fat, is a major contributor to deaths from cardiovascular disease in the United States," said lead study author Ashkan Afshin, assistant professor of global health at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Trans fat has been largely phased out of the food supply, but can still be found in some margarines, biscuits, cookies, frosting and other processed foods.

If Americans were to alter their eating habits, many lives could be saved, Afshin said.

"Our results show that nearly half of cardiovascular disease deaths in the United States can be prevented by improving diet."

The study was based on data from a variety of sources going back to the 1990s, including the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

More than 600,000 people die annually because of heart disease, or one in four of all US deaths.

Smoking, obesity, diet, exercise and hereditary factors can all contribute to person's likelihood of developing heart disease.

By examining data on US cardiovascular deaths in 2015, researchers found that dietary choices played a role in the deaths of an estimated 222,100 men and 193,400 women.

Experts at the American Heart Association encourage people to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fish and poultry.

People should avoid or limit their intake of fatty or processed red meat, sugary soft drinks, salt, saturated and trans fats.

Anti-abortion stance denies women their future: Trudeau

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vigorously defended women’s access to abortion services, saying on International Women’s Day Wednesday that they have a right to “choose their path, their future.””When we take a stand against abortion… we are t…

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vigorously defended women's access to abortion services, saying on International Women's Day Wednesday that they have a right to "choose their path, their future."

"When we take a stand against abortion... we are taking away the power of women to choose their path, their future, when, how, (and) with whom to start a family," he said at an event to announce Can$650 million over three years for women's health initiatives overseas.

The prime minister's support of a woman's right to choose to have an abortion sharply contrasts with US President Donald Trump's anti-abortion stand.

Trump nixed federal funding for NGOs that offer or promote abortions abroad.

"We can only build a better world, a stronger world with more opportunity for everyone... if women are empowered," Trudeau commented.

"For far too many women and girls, unsafe abortions and a lack of choices in reproductive health means that they either are at risk of death or else simply cannot contribute and cannot achieve their potential through education, through involvement in their community, through a broad range of opportunities."

The Canadian funding will go to "comprehensive sexuality education, strengthening reproductive health services, and investing in family planning and contraceptives," according to a government statement.

The programs aided by the announcement also "will help prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence, including child early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation and cutting and support the right to choose safe and legal abortion, as well as access to post-abortion care."

Separately, the government statistical agency issued a report noting that there is still a way to go to reach gender parity in Canada.

On wages, access to jobs or gender parity in politics, inequalities persist despite advances in recent decades to narrow the gap, according to Statistics Canada.

Women earn Can$0.87 for every dollar earned by men.

The difference "is largely a function of wage inequality between women and men in the same occupations," said Statistics Canada.

Many women (56 percent) also continue to be employed in "occupations that have been the purview of women historically," such as teaching, nursing, social work, clerical or sales and services.

At the same time, they remain far outnumbered by men in natural and applied science occupations.

Since taking office at the end of 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pressed for gender equality, making gestures such as having an equal number of male and female ministers in his cabinet.

In the House of Commons, however, the imbalance persists with two-thirds of members being men.

In a statement, Governor General David Johnston, Queen Elizabeth II's representative in Canada, called for gender equality in all areas, saying "there is still much to be done before women worldwide can achieve the equality they seek."

Railway suicides cluster near mental hospitals: study

Railway suicides in Austria are suspiciously clustered near psychiatric hospitals, scientists reported Wednesday.More than 1,100 people in Austria took their own lives from 1998 to 2009 by laying on the tracks or hurling themselves in front of oncoming…

Railway suicides in Austria are suspiciously clustered near psychiatric hospitals, scientists reported Wednesday.

More than 1,100 people in Austria took their own lives from 1998 to 2009 by laying on the tracks or hurling themselves in front of oncoming trains, they noted in a study published in Royal Society Open Science.

Using statistical methods, public data and Google Maps, the researchers plotted each death to within a kilometre (0.6 miles) of where it occurred.

They identified 15 suicide "hotspots" accounting for less than one percent of track length but 17 percent of railway suicides.

"We looked for factors that were associated with those hotspots," said Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, senior author of the study and a researcher at the suicide research unit in the University of Vienna.

"What we found is that they are associated with a density of psychiatric institutions," he told AFP.

If confirmed, the results suggest mental facilities should be "structurally separated" from railway tracks or located at a safe distance.

Niederkrotenthaler acknowledged that a surer method of verifying the link would be to check police and medical records to see if persons committing suicide had a history of mental illness, or ever resided in a psychiatric institution.

More than a million people kill themselves around the world every year, according to the World Health Organization.

In Western countries, suicide ranks consistently among the top three causes of death among young people.

Suicide is not only tragic for those who take their lives, but wreaks havoc on families and communities too, the researchers note.

Not enough evidence to support pelvic exams: US task force

A US medical task force said Tuesday that there is not enough evidence to support regular pelvic examinations in women who have no symptoms and are not pregnant, raising questions about the usefulness of the practice.Pelvic exams are often part of a wo…

A US medical task force said Tuesday that there is not enough evidence to support regular pelvic examinations in women who have no symptoms and are not pregnant, raising questions about the usefulness of the practice.

Pelvic exams are often part of a woman's annual gynecological checkup, and may involve the physicians inserting his or her fingers inside the patient's vagina and then feeling the outside of the lower belly for any bumps that might indicate cancer or abnormal growths. Rectal exams may also be included.

"The US Preventive Services Task Force has concluded that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of performing screening pelvic examinations in asymptomatic, nonpregnant adult women for the early detection and treatment of a range of gynecologic conditions," said the statement, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The task force did not issue a recommendation for or against pelvic exams and did not urge doctors to change their practice, but instead called for more research to provide evidence about the pros and cons.

The USPSTF also noted there is no change to its recommendations on regular Pap smear screenings for cervical cancer, which is called for every three years for most women.

Rather, it pointed out that for otherwise healthy, nonpregnant women, "it is unclear whether performing screening pelvic examinations in asymptomatic women reduces the risk of illness or death."

The USPSTF is an independent panel of experts that makes recommendations about the effectiveness of preventive care services.

Its review of scientific literature found nine relevant studies that included more than 27,000 women.

However, no studies examined the effectiveness of the pelvic exam in reducing the risk of dying from cancer or any other cause, or improving quality of life.

The USPSTF is not the first body to question the pelvic exam.

In 2014, the American College of Physicians also said the manual pelvic exam was not necessary for most women and often caused discomfort for patients while also unnecessarily raising costs and encouraging false-positive findings.

"Many women express fear and anxiety before the examination and discomfort, pain, or embarrassment during the examination," said an accompanying editorial in JAMA by Colleen McNicholas of the Washington University School of Medicine and Jeffrey Peipert of the Indiana University School of Medicine.

"Based on the recommendation from the task force, clinicians may ask whether the pelvic examination should be abandoned," they wrote.

"The answer is not found in this recommendation statement, but instead in a renewed commitment to shared decision-making" with patients, who should be consulted about whether or not they would like a pelvic exam as part of their care, they said.

Republicans unveil plan to repeal, replace Obamacare

US House Republicans unveiled long-awaited legislation Monday that would repeal and replace the health care reforms known as Obamacare, largely under the framework that President Donald Trump laid out in his recent congressional address.The American He…

US House Republicans unveiled long-awaited legislation Monday that would repeal and replace the health care reforms known as Obamacare, largely under the framework that President Donald Trump laid out in his recent congressional address.

The American Health Care Act would dismantle several of the core aspects of the reforms, including ending related subsidies and taxes.

It would also end the requirement for individuals to have insurance, instead providing incentives for people to purchase it on the open market.

"After years of Obamacare's broken promises, House Republicans today took an important step," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden said in a statement.

"Simply put, we have a Better Way to deliver solutions that put patients -- not bureaucrats -- first, and we are moving forward united in our efforts to rescue the American people from the mess Obamacare has created."

Obamacare has stirred controversy since becoming law in 2010 under president Barack Obama and a Congress controlled by Democrats. But it has increased in popularity and is credited with helping 20 million Americans acquire coverage.

Republicans argue, however, that insurance premiums have soared for millions of Americans, and that Obamacare has been a job killer.

The new bill would preserve two popular Obamacare elements: prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, and allowing dependents to remain on their parents' plans until age 26.

Republicans have not provided a cost figure for the new plan, or estimates on how many people might be covered.

The legislation requires passage by the House of Representatives and Senate before it goes to Trump for his signature.

Trump has declared repeal and replacement of Obamacare as his top legislative priority.

The replacement plan has courted controversy for months from within Trump's own party, as some GOP lawmakers warn that the tax credits in the new measure are just a reworked version of Obamacare's existing subsidies.

Under the new bill, Americans would receive such tax credits amounting to between $2,000 and $14,000 per year that would help low- and middle-income families gain access to health insurance.

Several Republican governors who expanded the low-income Medicaid program through Obamacare warn that the plan could leave their state budgets underwater.

The new bill ends the Medicaid expansion, opting instead for a block grant system that allows states to use the funding in ways they see fit.

The first public congressional review of the legislation occurs Wednesday, when the House Ways and Means Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee gather to debate and amend the bill.

Trump's party controls both chambers of Congress, but it holds the Senate by a 52-48 margin, meaning three or more Republican defections could sink the bill.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer blasted the bill as a "sham" that pads the pockets of the wealthy and insurance companies "at the expense of American families" who will be forced to pay more out of pocket for medical care.

"Senate Democrats will work hard to see that it is defeated," he said in a statement.

Zimbabwe state doctors end crippling strike

State doctors in Zimbabwe called off a three-week strike that paralysed hospitals “on compassionate grounds”, a union leader said Monday, after negotiations with the cash-strapped government stalled.Hospitals in Zimbabwe have been at a standstill since…

State doctors in Zimbabwe called off a three-week strike that paralysed hospitals "on compassionate grounds", a union leader said Monday, after negotiations with the cash-strapped government stalled.

Hospitals in Zimbabwe have been at a standstill since the middle of February with admissions suspended, many wards cleared of patients and non-critical casualty cases turned away after nurses joined the action.

State hospitals cater for the majority of Zimbabweans who cannot afford private hospitals.

The country had one of Africa's best healthcare systems, but many health professionals have left during the country's economic crisis over the last 15 years.

"We have resumed our duties. All the doctors are back at work," Edgar Munatsi, president of the Hospital Doctors Association, told AFP.

"We came to the decision on compassionate grounds after our meeting with the government failed to address our grievances.

"We were moved by the plight of the suffering patients. The mortality rate in the hospitals was going up and it appeared the government was not concerned."

No mortality figures were available from the government or the doctors' union.

The strike centred on demands for higher allowances and job guarantees for junior doctors.

The state-owned Herald newspaper said some allowances had been increased for medical staff.

An AFP correspondent in Harare observed last week that most wards at Parirenyatwa, Zimbabwe's main state hospital, were empty.

At the Mpilo hospital in the second city of Bulawayo, a small number of senior doctors attended to patients.

President Robert Mugabe, 93, returned to Zimbabwe this weekend after one of his regular trips to Singapore for medical care.

His government has struggled to pay civil servants and soldiers on time, resorting to staggering pay dates as funds runs short.

A planned strike on Monday by public workers over pay and delayed bonuses was postponed by organisers.

Last year, Mugabe's security forces quelled a series of street protests in Harare against his regime and the country's dire economic plight.

After surviving Ebola, Liberian icon dies giving birth

In November 2014, Salome Karwah of Liberia graced the cover of Time magazine as a symbol of strength and humanity after surviving Ebola and using her experience to help others with the virus.But last month, Karwah died shortly after giving birth to her…

In November 2014, Salome Karwah of Liberia graced the cover of Time magazine as a symbol of strength and humanity after surviving Ebola and using her experience to help others with the virus.

But last month, Karwah died shortly after giving birth to her fourth child -- and her husband blames the stigma attached to Ebola.

"My wife died because she was not catered to by nurses and doctors. The reason, I believe, is because she is an Ebola survivor," James Harris said.

"I am saying this because I heard some nurses telling friends not to go near my wife because she is a survivor."

The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa starting in 2013, which hit Liberia the hardest, infected nearly 29,000 people by conservative estimates, killing more than a third.

Karwah worked as a counsellor for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) after recovering from Ebola in the summer of 2014, helping others to cope with the psychological toll of the hemorrhagic fever.

One evening in February, Harris said, his wife was admitted to hospital in the capital, Monrovia, where she gave birth by caesarian section.

She returned home just two days later, telling her husband that some of the nurses refused to touch her.

- 'She did not deserve this' -

Complications soon developed, and Harris rushed to hospital seeking help. His concerns were dismissed by one doctor, and he was told to go to a pharmacy to buy an injection for his wife.

The medication was nowhere to be found, however, and Karwah was dead shortly afterwards.

"My wife was an Ebola survivor. She contracted the virus during the outbreak and she recovered," Harris said, bouncing the healthy new baby on his knee.

"She saved lives, she held babies who had Ebola, and she helped them to get better. She did not deserve this kind of treatment."

Karwah lost her parents, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins and a niece to Ebola, according to Time.

In an article for The Guardian in October 2014, Karwah wrote of the Ebola survivors she helped: "I help them with all my might because I understand the experience ?- I've been through the very same thing."

Her photograph was chosen for the cover of Time when those fighting the Ebola outbreak were named person of the year.

The hospital has refused to comment on her death, but Liberia's chief medical officer, Francis Kateh, told AFP that the authorities were investigating the case.

Karwah's brother, Reginald Karwah, said her body was tested for Ebola and the result came back negative.

Many Ebola survivors continue to suffer high levels of shame and discrimination, which has been exacerbated by findings that the virus can stay in certain parts of the body for at least nine months after a patient has recovered.

Liberia also has some of the world's highest maternal mortality rates, according to the United Nations.

The UN's Population Fund has said that access to life-saving care has deteriorated since the Ebola outbreak because of the strain it has inflicted on the country's fragile health system.

Birth defects jump twentyfold in Zika-hit mothers: study

Pregnant women infected with the Zika virus last year were 20 times more likely to bear children with birth defects than those who gave birth prior to the epidemic, US health officials said Thursday.Researchers for the US Centers for Disease Control an…

Pregnant women infected with the Zika virus last year were 20 times more likely to bear children with birth defects than those who gave birth prior to the epidemic, US health officials said Thursday.

Researchers for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compared birth outcomes prior to the Zika epidemic's outbreak in 2015 -- using data from three US state registries -- to those of mothers infected by the virus in 2016.

The defects included microcephaly -- a crippling deformation that leads to babies having very small brains and heads -- as well as poor cranial development, neural tube defects and other brain or eye abnormalities.

The study found that those defects were seen in about three live births per 1,000 in 2013 and 2014.

But in 2016 abnormalities were found in some 60 infants and fetuses per 1,000 when their pregnant mothers were infected by Zika.

Among infected women, the virus was also responsible for 48 percent of miscarriages and 66 percent of premature births, with fetuses frequently suffering from neural tube defects or other brain abnormalities in early stages of development.

Another CDC study released in December showed that the rate of defects was higher -- 11 percent -- among women who were infected with Zika in the first trimester of their pregnancies.

The CDC reiterated recommendations that pregnant women in the US avoid visiting countries where mosquito-borne transmission of the virus is active, and to avoid sexual contact with partners who have visited those areas.

Zika symptoms are often mild and include body pain, red eyes and a rash.

Four out of five people report no symptoms at all, making the infection particularly difficult to prevent.

Donors pledge 181 mln euros after Trump’s anti-abortion move

Donor countries on Thursday pledged 181 million euros for charities providing access to safe abortion in response to President Donald Trump’s bar on US funding, organisers said.The donations came at a “She Decides” conference in Brussels which was atte…

Donor countries on Thursday pledged 181 million euros for charities providing access to safe abortion in response to President Donald Trump's bar on US funding, organisers said.

The donations came at a "She Decides" conference in Brussels which was attended by 50 countries including Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium.

"I think that the Trump administration decision is a wrong decision, and I've never seen any evidence that supports that decision," Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said as he opened the conference.

"You see almost 50 countries here saying we think that this is important and we want to continue working on this."

In one of his first acts as president, Trump reintroduced the global gag rule, enacted by Ronald Reagan in 1984, which prohibits foreign charities from using US federal funding to provide abortion services, information, counselling or referrals.

On Thursday, donor nations and organisations pledged 181 million euros for the global "She Decides" initiative, which was launched by the Netherlands in January, the Belgian foreign ministry said.

The Netherlands initiated the https://shedecides.com campaign to compensate for what it said was a 600 million euro ($640 million) annual funding gap caused by Trump's ban.

New advance could boost available organs for transplant

A new scientific advance could boost the number of donated organs available for transplant, and possibly reduce a critical shortage that leads to thousands of deaths each year, researchers said Wednesday.Deep-freezing organs and tissue through cryopres…

A new scientific advance could boost the number of donated organs available for transplant, and possibly reduce a critical shortage that leads to thousands of deaths each year, researchers said Wednesday.

Deep-freezing organs and tissue through cryopreservation has been possible since the 1980s, but re-warming them without cooking or destroying the tissue has proven more difficult. Most donated organs can only last about four hours on ice.

Now, researchers at the University of Minnesota have discovered a way to thaw animal heart valves and blood vessels, said the report in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The method works by dispersing silica-coated iron oxide nanoparticles throughout a cryoprotectant solution.

"The iron oxide nanoparticles act as tiny heaters around the tissue when they are activated using non-invasive electromagnetic waves to rapidly and uniformly warm tissue at rates of 100 to 200 degrees Celsius per minute, 10 to 100 times faster than previous methods," said a statement from the University of Minnesota, which owns two patents on the technology.

Tests performed after the re-warming showed the tissues were unharmed, unlike tissue re-warmed slowly over ice or via convection heating.

The solution could also be easily rinsed off the tissue afterwards.

"This is the first time that anyone has been able to scale up to a larger biological system and demonstrate successful, fast, and uniform warming... of preserved tissue without damaging the tissue," said senior author John Bischof, mechanical engineering professor at the University of Minnesota.

"These results are very exciting and could have a huge societal benefit if we could someday bank organs for transplant."

The next step for researchers is to try the technique on rat and rabbit organs, then pigs' organs, and eventually on human organs.

The advance might make some dream of one day freezing an entire human and then thawing the body to bring the person back to life. But Bischof said that day -- if ever possible -- is still quite far off.

"We are cautiously optimistic that we're going to be able to get into a kidney or maybe a heart," he told reporters on a conference call.

"But we are not, in any way, declaring victory, here. There are some huge scientific hurdles ahead of us. And so I think it's rather premature to think about getting into a whole person."

- Organs discarded -

Nearly 76,000 people are actively waiting for an organ transplant in the United States, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

Experts say more than 60 percent of the hearts and lungs donated for transplantation each year must be discarded because they cannot be kept on ice for long.

On average, 22 people die every day while waiting for an organ.

Bischof and colleagues said it could be seven to 10 years before their technology is available for wider use in organ preservation.

"This paper takes the first practical steps towards making tissue banking a reality," said Caitlin Czajka, associate editor at Science Translational Medicine.

"Further scale-up will be necessary to accommodate larger tissues and eventually whole organs."

Flu meds do not harm unborn babies: study

Unborn children suffer no harm when their mothers take flu medication during pregnancy, a study of some 700,000 women said Wednesday.It was the largest study ever to assess the potential risks of taking oseltamivir or zanamivir (better known as Tamiflu…

Unborn children suffer no harm when their mothers take flu medication during pregnancy, a study of some 700,000 women said Wednesday.

It was the largest study ever to assess the potential risks of taking oseltamivir or zanamivir (better known as Tamiflu and Relenza) -- the two main drugs to combat serious flu infections -- during pregnancy, its authors said.

The team compared almost 6,000 pregnant women in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and France who were prescribed oseltamivir or zanamivir between 2008 and 2010, with nearly 700,000 who were not.

Taking into account factors such as age, smoking and the use of other medicines, the team found "no increased risks of adverse outcomes" from one group to the next.

These included low birth weight, preterm birth, stillbirth or birth defects.

On the contrary, the team found that children whose mothers had been prescribed Tamiflu or Relenza, drugs known as neuraminidase inhibitors, were less likely to be underweight.

Influenza flares every winter, putting millions of pregnant women at risk of severe illness during seasons with an aggressive virus strain, the research team said.

Many medicine watchdogs therefore recommended the use of flu drugs, "despite limited knowledge on their safety and effectiveness during pregnancy".

This study, published in The BMJ medical journal, sought to correct that.

The team conceded there were shortcomings in the study, including that they did not assess risks to the child before 22 weeks of pregnancy, and did not know whether women prescribed the drugs had actually taken them.

Celtic great Billy McNeill has dementia

The family of former Celtic captain and manager Billy McNeill has said he is suffering from dementia as they called for more research into whether footballers were at greater risk of brain injury from heading the ball.A central defender, the 76-year-ol…

The family of former Celtic captain and manager Billy McNeill has said he is suffering from dementia as they called for more research into whether footballers were at greater risk of brain injury from heading the ball.

A central defender, the 76-year-old Celtic great's glittering career saw him become the first British player to lift the European Cup when the Hoops won the trophy in 1967 and he also had two spells as the Glasgow club's manager.

His family told Scottish newspapers that McNeill had been diagnosed with the illness seven years ago and was now unable to speak more than a few words at a time.

They added they had deliberately decided to make his condition public ahead of the 50th anniversary of Celtic's 2-1 win over Inter Milan in the 1967 European Cup final in Lisbon.

McNeill is being cared for at his home in Glasgow by his wife Liz, 73.

"His concentration is not as good as it was and he now can't communicate very well," she told the Sunday Mail.

"I think it's the right time for us to talk about this now. Heading the ball and the possibilities of concussive effects on the brain needs more discussion.

"We don't know if Billy's dementia is linked to his football. More research needs to be done."

Earlier this month FIFA, football's global governing body, said there was no conclusive proof that heading a ball causes an increased risk of brain disease, after the release of a study on footballers who died from dementia.

"To our very best knowledge, there is currently no true evidence of the negative effect of heading or other sub-concussive blows," FIFA said.

"Results from studies on active and former professional football players in relation to brain function are inconclusive."

A British study said professional footballers are at heightened risk of developing a brain disease that can cause dementia and is usually found in boxers and American football players.

But the study examined just 14 retired footballers with dementia and did not show whether the damage inflicted on their brains had been caused by heading the ball, aerial collisions with other players or something else.

CTE can only be diagnosed posthumously and a very small number of former footballers are known to have had the disease.

They include former West Bromwich Albion and England striker Jeff Astle, who died in 2002 aged 59.

Astle was originally diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, but a re-examination of his brain revealed he had died from CTE that a coroner said was brought on by the "industrial disease" of heading the ball.

First drug-resistant malaria parasite detected in Africa

For the first time in Africa, researchers said Wednesday they have detected a malaria parasite that is partially resistant to the top anti-malaria drug, artemisinin, raising concern about efforts to fight a disease that sickens hundreds of millions of …

For the first time in Africa, researchers said Wednesday they have detected a malaria parasite that is partially resistant to the top anti-malaria drug, artemisinin, raising concern about efforts to fight a disease that sickens hundreds of millions of people each year.

The discovery means that Africa now joins southeast Asia in hosting such drug-resistant forms of the mosquito-borne disease.

Malaria infected more than 200 million people and killed some 438,000 people worldwide in 2015, most of them children in Africa.

"The spread of artemisinin resistance in Africa would be a major setback in the fight against malaria, as ACT (artemisinin-based combination therapy) is the only effective and widely used antimalarial treatment at the moment," said lead author Arnab Pain, professor at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

"Therefore, it is very important to regularly monitor artemisinin resistance worldwide."

The drug-resistant malaria parasites were detected in a Chinese patient who had traveled from Equatorial Guinea to China, said the report led by Jun Cao from the Jiangsu Institute for Parasitic Diseases in China.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Combination therapy with artemisinin usually clears malaria from the blood in three days.

In southeast Asia, strains of the malaria-causing agent, Plasmodium falciparum, have grown relatively tolerant to artemisinin, in what is known as "partial resistance."

Most patients can still be cured, but it takes longer.

World Health Organization experts are concerned that P. falciparum could eventually become completely resistant to artemisinin, just as it has to other antimalarial drugs.

Researchers said they found the parasite carried a new mutation in a gene called Kelch13 (K13), which is the main driver for artemisinin resistance in Asia.

They then confirmed the origin of the resistance was Africa, by using "whole-genome sequencing and bioinformatics tools we had previously developed -- like detectives trying to link the culprit parasite to the crime scene," he said.

Genital herpes in pregnancy doubles autism risk: study

Women who are infected with genital herpes early in their pregnancy may face twice the risk of bearing a child with autism, a team of US and Norwegian researchers said Wednesday.The report in mSphere, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology …

Women who are infected with genital herpes early in their pregnancy may face twice the risk of bearing a child with autism, a team of US and Norwegian researchers said Wednesday.

The report in mSphere, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology journal, is the first to show that a woman's immune response could have a harmful effect on the developing fetus's brain and influence the likelihood of autism.

"We believe the mother's immune response to herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) could be disrupting fetal central nervous system development, raising risk for autism," said lead author Milada Mahic, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

The causes of autism spectrum disorder remain poorly understood, and researchers believe it arises from some combination of genetic and environmental influences.

As many as one in 68 US children suffer from autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder which can impair social and communication skills.

About one in five American women has genital herpes, which is incurable and is typically spread through sex.

For the current study, researchers examined five pathogens which have previously been shown to raise the risk of birth defects to see if there was any link between maternal infection and autism.

These included Toxoplasma gondii, rubella virus, cytomegalovirus, and herpes simplex viruses type 1 and 2.

Researchers examined blood samples from 412 mothers of children diagnosed with autism, and compared them to 463 mothers of children without autism in Norway.

The blood samples were analyzed at around week 18 of pregnancy and at birth.

Only antibodies to HSV-2, not any of the other pathogens, were linked to a higher risk of autism.

And the risk was only apparent when the mother's system was fighting a genital herpes infection early in pregnancy, at a time when the fetus's nervous system is growing rapidly.

"The cause or causes of most cases of autism are unknown," said senior author W. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

"But evidence suggests a role for both genetic and environmental factors. Our work suggests that inflammation and immune activation may contribute to risk."

Off-label antidepressant use not backed by science: study

Most off-label use of antidepressants is not backed by evidence that the drugs will work as intended, scientists say.Many medications approved for the treatment of depression are prescribed by doctors for other problems such as pain, insomnia or migrai…

Most off-label use of antidepressants is not backed by evidence that the drugs will work as intended, scientists say.

Many medications approved for the treatment of depression are prescribed by doctors for other problems such as pain, insomnia or migraine headaches.

But only a small fraction of such "off-label" treatments have been tested for efficacy and side-effects, researchers reported in the medical journal BMJ.

Giving adult medication to children, or in doses different from those tested in clinical trials and specified by drug-makers, are also considered off-label uses.

The study found that about a third of antidepressants are prescribed for conditions other than depression.

"This is probably the tip of the iceberg," said lead author Jenna Wong, a researcher at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

"There is a lot of off-label use going on, but we don't have good ways of tracking it," especially when antidepressants are taken to treat other conditions, she told AFP.

The use of antidepressants -- both off-label and for depression -- has increased sharply in many countries in recent decades.

In the United States, their use shot up almost five fold from early 1990s to the 2005-2008 period, when 11 percent of adults reported taking them in the previous month, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Women in the US were more than twice as likely as men to take antidepressants.

In Britain, their use increased by nearly seven percent between 2014 and 2015 -- a sharper rise than any other class of drug.

In the study, Wong and colleagues tracked over 100,000 antidepressant prescriptions written by 174 doctors for 20,000 patients in Quebec, Canada between 2003 and 2015.

Overall, 29 percent were given for conditions other than depression.

Scientific data supported only 16 percent of these off-label treatments.

For the remaining 84 percent, there was either little or no evidence that the medications would work as intended.

In evaluating safety, most consumers focus on whether a drug has been approved by regulatory agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said Wong.

"But for physicians and scientists, the greater concern is whether a particular off-label use is scientifically-based or not."

The study shows that more research is urgently needed on the prevalence and impact of off-label meds, said Daniel Morales and Bruce Guthrie, both researchers at the Dundee Medical School in Scotland.

"Off-label prescribing matters because it is usually -- but not always -- associated with substantial uncertainty about the balance of benefit and harm," they wrote in the BMJ.

Fewer teen suicide attempts in states with gay marriage: study

US states that implemented same-sex marriage legislation prior to its legalization at the federal level saw a drop in suicide attempt rates among high school students, new research shows.States that legalized gay marriage saw a 14 percent decrease in s…

US states that implemented same-sex marriage legislation prior to its legalization at the federal level saw a drop in suicide attempt rates among high school students, new research shows.

States that legalized gay marriage saw a 14 percent decrease in suicide attempts among gay, lesbian and bisexual adolescents, with a seven percent decline among students overall, according to the research published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.

The researchers compared 32 of the 35 states that legalized same-sex marriage prior to January 2015 with those that had not. The US Supreme Court legalized gay marriage at the national level in June 2015.

States that did not implement such policies prior to federal legalization did not see suicide attempt rates drop, the study said.

"Permitting same-sex marriage reduces structural stigma associated with sexual orientation," said study leader Julia Raifman of John Hopkins University.

"There may be something about having equal rights -- even if they have no immediate plans to take advantage of them -- that makes students feel less stigmatized and more hopeful for the future."

After unintentional injury, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 24 in the United States.

The rate of suicide attempts among America's youth continues to rise, with those cases requiring medical attention jumping by 47 percent between 2009 and 2015.

The study shows that 29 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual students reported having tried to commit suicide in the past 12 months, compared to six percent of heterosexual students.

Researchers used data taken between January 1999 and December 2015, examining trends starting five years before Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage in 2004.

The US Department of Health and Human Services aims to reduce adolescent suicide rates by 10 percent by 2020, as part of its Healthy People 2020 program.

Study authors suggest that legalizing same-sex marriage has helped that effort.

"We can all agree that reducing adolescent suicide attempts is a good thing, regardless of our political views," Raifman says.

"Policymakers need to be aware that policies on sexual minority rights can have a real effect on the mental health of adolescents.

"The policies at the top can dictate in ways both positive and negative what happens further down."

Hungary cheesed off over food ‘double standards’

Hungary on Monday announced an inquiry after a study by the food safety agency suggested many food products sold with identical packaging were superior in neighbouring Austria.Products made by food giants including Unilever and Nestle, from chocolate s…

Hungary on Monday announced an inquiry after a study by the food safety agency suggested many food products sold with identical packaging were superior in neighbouring Austria.

Products made by food giants including Unilever and Nestle, from chocolate spreads to packet soups, were seemingly tastier, creamier or bigger in Austria, according to a study of 24 brands by Hungary's food safety authority.

"This is primarily a moral question, not a legal one," said Robert Zsigo, a government official responsible for supermarket oversight.

The inspections will compare the quality of 100 identically branded products in Hungarian and foreign shops, Zsigo told reporters in Budapest.

The food agency's report, seen by AFP on Monday, looked at the taste, composition and packaging information of products at the Spar, Metro, Lidl and Aldi chains in Hungary and Austria.

Among a list of discrepancies, the agency said the version of Nutella, the children's favourite chocolate-and-hazelnut spread from Ferrero, appeared to be "less creamy" than the Austria version.

The aroma of Coca-Cola was seemingly "less rich, less complex" in Hungary, the agency said, while the flavour of Nestle's Nesquik cocoa powder was "more harmonious and intense" in Austria.

And the report said some of Unilever's Knorr packet soups in Hungary were found to contain about 20 percent less powder than in Austria, despite identical packaging.

Their "Carbonara" product also contained three different types of cheese ingredients in Austria, compared with none in Hungary.

"Hungarians want fair treatment... not double standards," Zsigo said.

He said the first results of the wider inspection could be announced next month.

Canada takes aim at opioid crisis

The Canadian government earmarked a multimillion-dollar package Friday to combat overdose deaths linked to the powerful analgesic fentanyl and try to stop it from being abused for its heroin-like effect.Of the Can$75 million ($57.3 million) announced f…

The Canadian government earmarked a multimillion-dollar package Friday to combat overdose deaths linked to the powerful analgesic fentanyl and try to stop it from being abused for its heroin-like effect.

Of the Can$75 million ($57.3 million) announced for the effort, Can$65 million will go to combat the fentanyl crisis, including better lab testing and toxology, and data collection.

Highly potent and addictive, fentanyl is estimated to be up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Two milligrams of pure fentanyl -- the size of about four grains of salt -- is enough to kill the average adult.

The remaining Can$10 million will be used to bolster British Columbia emergency services.

The opioid crisis has spread across Canada, but westernmost British Columbia province, noted Health Minister Jane Philpott, "has been hardest hit."

She pointed to the more than 900 drug overdoses in the province last year, up almost 80 percent from 2015.

Fentanyl accounted for two-thirds of the total.

"The crisis is also having a big effect in other provinces," Philpott said, noting that in neighboring Alberta, 343 fentanyl-related deaths were reported in 2016.

Last year, Ottawa cracked down on the import of fentanyl and its precursors, removed legal hurdles to opening new supervised injection sites, and distributed thousands of naloxone kits.

Naloxone quickly counters the effect of most opioids. Philpott said the government wants to start using a nasal spray version.